A/P/A Heritage volleyball

Pioneers: Dave Shoji

Our Christian Shimabuku catches up with recently retired head coach Dave Shoji, who led the University of Hawaii Rainbow Wahine women's volleyball team to four national championships.

A series of Asian and Pacific American stories celebrating our A/P/A heritage

By Christian Shimabuku

After a forty-two year run as the head coach of the University of Hawaii Rainbow Wahine women’s volleyball team, Dave Shoji formally announced his decision to step down on February 20 this year.

During that span, his teams earned four national championships, and tallied 1202 total wins, putting him second all-time in NCAA Division I history behind Penn State’s Russ Rose. Shoji’s illustrious career also includes two National Coach of the Year awards in 1982 and 2009, respectively, and a spot on the NCAA 25th Anniversary team. He was inducted to American Volleyball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2010, and the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame.

Since Shoji’s announcement, Hawaii Governor David Ige proclaimed April 13 as “Dave Shoji Day” for the state. There is also a Dave Shoji Aloha Ball Retirement Celebration set for May 21 at the Stan Sheriff Center, where the Rainbow Wahine play their home games.

Last August, Shoji traveled to Brazil to watch his sons Kawika and Erik compete in the 2016 Olympics for the U.S. national volleyball team. Erik, in particular, has firmly set his own legacy in the game, with an annual collegiate award named in his honor. The Erik Shoji Award is given to the top libero in men’s college volleyball every year.

Shoji, who turned 70 in December, is battling prostate cancer, diagnosed late last year. But even still, in retirement, he has kept himself very busy. Dat Winning was able to catch up with Shoji and ask him about how retired life has been treating him so far.

Dat Winning: First of all, coach, how are you feeling? You recently tweeted that you were done with your cancer treatments.

Coach Shoji: I feel great. Everything seems to be good with the treatment and recovery so everything’s real positive right now.

DW: You also tweeted that May 1 was your first “official” day of retirement. How has the transition been so far?

Shoji: I’ve only been officially retired for a few days now. It feels really good. I know it was the right time to step away and it’s just a good feeling I have right now. I think the program is on solid ground and it’s gonna go further so I feel really good about stepping away at this point.

DW: What’s a typical day for you now? Any routine yet?

Shoji: I don’t have a routine right now. I just want to step back, relax a little bit. I’m still active every day. I’m either playing golf or surfing or exercising somehow and we’ve got a few trips planned coming up in the summer. There’s no routine right now. Maybe in six months I’ll settle into something else but right now, it’s just kind of relaxing mostly.

DW: Now that you’re not at the helm of the program, have you had time to reflect on your career and put it into perspective?

Shoji: I’ve thought a lot about how fortunate I’ve been over the last 40 years and how I did what I loved to do and at the end of it, getting paid very well to do what I love to do. I’m a very competitive person so I was in the right environment. It was challenging, it was just a dream job for me. I started out as a young person and not many people can do the same thing for a long time and love every minute of it so like I said, I’ve been really fortunate and blessed to have the job and I understand that. I’m very grateful for the people that put me in this position and just very thankful as well.

DW: In addition to all the wins, a large part of your legacy was the way you empowered women. What steered you towards coaching women as opposed to men in the first place?

Shoji: To be honest, the women’s job was going to be full-time way before the men’s job was. Women’s volleyball was well-established and I knew that was gonna go in a full-time direction so I knew that was really probably the main driving force for me to stay on the women’s side. I actually enjoyed coaching women more. I found them to be receptive to coaching and receptive to learning, and receptive to a lot of technique. I felt more comfortable coaching women.

Obviously, the women we’ve had in the program were very disciplined and wanted to do well so that’s the main reason we’ve been successful. Because we were so successful on the court, I think it carried over to their personal lives. They just felt really good about themselves in terms of volleyball, which helped them off the court become confident and hardworking women. I think they were empowered to go on and do well in their lives past volleyball. A lot of our women who left here have been very successful in life.

DW: What does your heritage mean to you when you consider how few Asian Americans are head coaches of a college program?

Shoji: There are very few Asian American head coaches in major sports in America. It wasn’t something that I thought about a lot, but if you reflect on it, it’s something that I’m grateful for the opportunity. I just hope that other Asian Americans have the desire to coach at a high level and that they can do it if they put their mind to it.

Featured image modified from photo found at uhfoundation.org.

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