Updates From Bootleg Books

Review of “Lost Lakers” in “Grand Valley Lanthorn”

Posted by on Jun 6, 2017 in Press Release | 0 comments

A review of “Lost Lakers” has been published in the sports section of the June 4 edition of “Grand Valley Lanthorn,” my alma mater’s student newspaper. As “Lanthorn” sportswriter Arpan Lobo notes in his article, “Lost Lakers” is available exclusively at Grand Valley’s Laker Store. The book can also be purchased online at http://Amazon.com and http://bootlegbooksboise.com. Lobo’s article can be viewed at http://www.lanthorn.com/article/2017/06/sports-lost-lakers.

Don Horkey’s article about “Lost Lakers” in the “Michigan Catholic”

Posted by on Apr 8, 2017 in Press Release | 0 comments

Lost Lakers in The Michigan CatholicCheck out Don Horkey’s feature article about my recently released book, “Lost Lakers,” in the latest edition of the “Michigan Catholic.” The story can be viewed online at http://www.themichigancatholic.org/…/cake-eater-meets-conv…/

Tale of Two Programs

Posted by on Jan 16, 2017 in Selected Articles | 0 comments

(This article was originally published in the summer 2006 edition of FOCUS, Boise State University’s alumni magazine.)

After a 13-year hiatus, the author discovers the true meaning of interdisciplinary academics

By Bob Evancho

As the product of both baccalaureate and graduate interdisciplinary studies programs, I know a thing or two about these academic hybrids.

I know at one time they were denounced in some university circles as unstructured, watered-down versions of bona fide majors, bereft of meaningful scholarship and job-market potential. I also know years ago they were looked upon disdainfully by some purists, viewed as a hodgepodge of classes thrown together by
directionless students who lacked a sense of intellectual purpose and personal focus.

I know because some 30 years ago I was one of those aimless undergraduates.

My venture into “integrative learning” began my junior year at Grand Valley State College in my native Michigan. That was the year I transferred from GVSC’s traditional College of Arts and Sciences to the school’s ultraprogressive William James College, which espoused an interdisciplinary approach to learning and a commitment to “responding to the personal needs and desires of its students.”

The reason for my internal transfer was valid enough: I developed a serious interest in writing and wanted to add a journalism major to my sociology major; at the time the arts and media curriculum at WJC was the closest thing Grand Valley had to a journalism program.

Although I was chided by some friends and classmates for switching to Grand Valley’s “hippie” college, it was a wise move in the long run.

Because my career goals were uncertain at the time, WJC’s arts and media courses and independent studies — with their cross-disciplinary emphasis
and flexibility—gave me broad-based exposure to the various aspects of print and broadcast journalism and kept me on track to graduate, which I did in 1975.
My time at William James College was worthwhile; the interdisciplinary

programs and initiatives allowed me to shape my own learning experience and get a feel for writing and reporting in both the classroom and the real world. But I must admit, there was a certain latitude within the school that lacked the sense of urgency I usually associated with the pursuit of a degree.
Moreover, I found WJC’s credit/no credit grading system to be less grueling and nerve-racking than what I was used to. I wouldn’t say William James College fostered a laissez-faire approach to learning, but it wasn’t exactly The Paper Chase, either.
Fast-forward 13 years. I’m a seasoned journalist, a writer for Boise State’s news bureau and among the first group of students to seek admission into the university’s new interdisciplinary studies (IDS) program. I wonder if my re-entry into the realm of integrative learning will be anything like my first go-round. I quickly discover the answer is no.

Instituted in 1988, BSU’s interdisciplinary bachelor’s and master’s programs are designed to emphasize “continued intellectual and cultural development in a constantly changing society” for students “whose career goals do not match fully with a single identifiable academic unit or department.”
Hey, that’s me, I thought when Boise State first announced it would start its IDS program. My proposed “social affairs writing” master’s program — a combination of graduate-level English, history and sociology classes — would help me hone my writing and research skills as a journalist and broaden my intellectual perspective. It all made perfect sense. I figured I was good to go.

But my entry into the program was anything but automatic.

“One of the reasons we started the interdisciplinary studies program was to maximize the productivity of our programs and make efficient use of what we did offer back then,” says IDS director Daryl Jones, who initiated the program when he was Boise State’s arts and sciences dean. “But we do not allow these programs to become diluted substitutes for other degree programs. We are vigilant in ensuring that we have the faculty expertise and the rigorous coursework to justify the programs. We have requirements built into the program to protect those things from happening. We work to make sure that our interdisciplinary programs are genuinely rigorous and genuinely interdisciplinary in nature.”

I can vouch for that. Our inaugural group of IDS candidates — and the more than 100 graduate students and approximately 40 undergrads who have followed us since ’88 — were required to jump through numerous hoops before we ever set foot in a classroom.

First, we not only had to assemble our respective programs in their entirety, but we also had to justify how each and every class merged with all the others to form a single body of academic work. Second, we had to form an advisory committee that included a faculty member from each discipline in our respective programs. Third, we had to present our specialized/individualized programs to a universitywide Interdisciplinary Studies Committee for approval.

Although both groups approved my coursework and Boise State’s IDS program started that fall, I still had some colleagues who looked askance at the whole interdisciplinary studies thing — at least initially. One skeptic was political science professor John Freemuth.

“The one danger I saw, at least at the beginning, was attempts by students who couldn’t get into a regular academic master’s program and would cobble together
some kind of program to try to get into graduate school that way,” Freemuth says. “There was a concern that these would be some kind of amorphous, sloppy programs without the academic rigor. I’m all for diverse intellectual inquiry, but I also think that interdisciplinary programs should be for students with specific and unique objectives. We need to be good gatekeepers to make sure such programs don’t compromise Boise State’s academic integrity; I think Daryl has done a good job in that regard. But we need to remain watchful.”

Based on my graduate experience at Boise State, I’ve got two words for my friend Dr. Freemuth: Don’t worry … at least about me. Given the opportunity to design my own course of study, I made discoveries and connections that may not have been possible within the narrow confines of a single-subject program. The flexibility inherent in Boise State’s interdisciplinary studies program furnished me with a broader, more encompassing perspective that was invigorating, enriching and relevant — and an understanding of the true meaning of interdisciplinary academics.

FOCUS editor Bob Evancho earned his MA in social affairs writing through Boise State’s interdisciplinary studies program in 1993.

At Boise State, Football Helps Tell Other Success Stories

Posted by on Jan 16, 2017 in Selected Articles | 0 comments

(This article was originally published on Boise State University’s website and in the Dec. 7, 2004, edition of Update, BSU’s faculty/staff newsletter. It was reprinted in several Idaho newspapers.)

By Bob Evancho

Bet you didn’t know Boise State University is home to a large geophysical research program focused exclusively on environmental and engineering problems.

Now you do, thanks to our football team.

And did you know that our debate and speech team is a veritable powerhouse, with a decade of success that includes seven conference championships, four regional team titles and four consecutive top-five finishes at the national forensics tournament? Or that since 1993, eight of our faculty members have been named the Carnegie Foundation’s Idaho Professor of the Year? Or that Boise State boasts Idaho’s largest enrollment (18,456) as well as the most stringent enrollment standards among the state’s public institutions?

Now you do, thanks to our football team — our undefeated, 10th-ranked, Liberty Bowl-bound football team.

Also, did you know a recent report stated that Boise State — by generating jobs, providing earnings, stimulating sales and educating citizens — had an annual economic impact of almost $330 million for the state of Idaho during the last fiscal year? Or that a DNA expert in our Department of Biology used his expertise to help exonerate an inmate who was wrongfully imprisoned for 17 years and serving a life sentence for rape? Or that BSU was recently part of the largest single research grant in Idaho history? Or that earlier this year one of our graduates won an Alfred I. DuPont Award, the top honor in broadcast journalism? Or that … well, you get the idea.
(For the record, the geophysical research program comprises the Department of Geosciences and CGISS [pronounced SEE-JIS], which stands for the Center for Geophysical Investigation of the Shallow Subsurface; the DNA expert is professor Greg Hampikian; the $16.1 million grant is from the National Institutes of Health for biomedical research; and the DuPont-winning alumnus is Boise TV reporter Jon Hanian.)

The point is, as the Bronco football team continues to play on the national stage, the spotlight continues to shine on the rest of Boise State, which allows the university to trumpet programs like CGISS and the debate team and people like Hampikian and Hanian to an audience that extends far beyond Idaho and the Pacific Northwest.
The price tag for this unprecedented national exposure?

“I could not afford to assemble a public relations and advertising budget for this year that would give us the coverage the football team has given us,” said Boise State President Bob Kustra. “If I assembled that budget, the university would go broke trying to pay for it. The football program, and the athletic program in general, is a window through which we can invite people from around the country to look at our academic programs and learn more about us. That’s absolutely invaluable.”
A winning football program is nothing new at Boise State; the school was a junior college juggernaut from 1947 through 1967 and a perennial contender at the NCAA Division II and I-AA levels until it joined the Division I ranks in 1996. But the accomplishments of coach Dan Hawkins and his team — the nation’s current longest winning streak (22 games) and home winning streak (25), as well as a Western Athletic Conference-record 26-game winning streak, three straight WAC titles, and just two losses in the last three seasons — have delivered extraordinary visibility to BSU.

ESPN’s mid-major darling

For example, when ESPN came to Boise in September to broadcast the Broncos’ game against BYU, part of the game-day package was a segment on engineering professor Michelle Sabick’s biomechanical research that recorded the throwing motions of BSU’s quarterbacks. With a computer system that created three-dimensional skeletal images of the QBs, Sabick’s work provided visuals and a football angle that were tailor-made for ESPN, which ate it up. The day before the game, ESPN reporter Heather Cox and her camera crew visited Sabick in BSU’s Biomechanics Research Lab and shot their footage. The next night, during ESPN’s live coverage of the BYU-BSU game, the network ran its segment on Sabick, and Cox, standing on the sidelines, regaled millions of viewers nationwide with the story of the computer-animated skeletons throwing a football.

When you combine the entertainment value of Boise State’s high-scoring, risk-taking football team with Bronco Stadium’s unconventional blue turf and unique stories like Sabick’s research and starting quarterback Jared Zabransky’s potato-farming background, which ESPN also featured earlier this year, it isn’t too hard to understand why BSU has become the cable network’s mid-major darling. Conversely, with six appearances this year (the Liberty Bowl will make it seven) and a 15-0 overall record on ESPN or ESPN2, Boise State’s relationship with the network has provided the university with priceless nationwide exposure.
Another financial benefit to the football team’s success, adds Kustra, is a heightened awareness of other parts of the university. “Our donors have been reawakened to a new future at Boise State,” he said. “I hear over and over again [from donors and potential donors who say], ‘I’d like to sit down and talk to you about what you’re doing here.’ And it’s not just about football. Football has recaptured their attention and recaptured their imagination about the future of this institution; many people have asked questions about our academic side.”

“Beyond the Blue”

All this attention is not lost on those charged with promoting and raising funds for the university. Riding this wave of Bronco popularity, the university has embarked on a publicity campaign that includes a series of promotions titled “Beyond the Blue,” a takeoff on the blue turf that highlights academics, the arts, guest speakers, faculty awards and other points of pride at Boise State. The campaign, says Kustra, is already beginning to pay dividends.
“Highlighting the work of some of our most accomplished faculty has clearly caught the attention and imagination of donors; they’re now saying things like, ‘Well, I’ve given to athletics over the year, I think it may be time for me to pony up even more to give to academics as well.’ That’s awfully encouraging for a president to hear.”
While the publicity generated by ESPN coverage and articles in Sports Illustrated, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, The New York Times and USA Today — to name just a few of the publications that have covered the Broncos in recent weeks — is hard to quantify in dollars, the financial figures from Boise State’s bookstore do reflect a major infusion of funding into the university’s coffers.

According to Kim Thomas, bookstore director, sales of Bronco apparel and merchandise have skyrocketed this year — a 76 percent increase in apparel purchased and a 200 percent increase in online sales — compared to last year’s record-setting sales figures. Last year the bookstore contributed $752,000, or 7.5 percent of its sales — including $200,000 to the academic scholarship endowment fund — to the university. Based on sales figures so far, Thomas expects the overall number for this year to be more than $1 million.

Name recognition

To be sure, BSU’s recent gridiron glory has led to more TV exposure, the potential for a larger and more generous pool of donors, and more T-shirt sales. And there’s yet another major benefit to all these positive results, says Jason MacDonald, a BSU marketing professor who believes a college’s name recognition — whether or not it stems all or in part from the success of its sports teams — should not be underestimated.

“From a recruiting standpoint, there are two ways to raise awareness: academics and athletics,” he said. “Academics is a long road that literally takes decades, whereas athletics are more effective and efficient. When I would go to conferences I used to have to explain where Idaho is. Now people say, ‘Wow, you’re from Boise State? What a great place that looks like.’ I think the success of the football team tends to transfer to the university overall, which helps us attract better students. I mean, a biology student doesn’t come here just for a biology degree. The college experience and the atmosphere are all part of an education, and for a lot of students, football is part of that atmosphere. It plays a role.

“In fact, I tell my students all the time, if nobody has heard of where you got your degree it pretty much has zero value. If they’ve never heard of BSU, one great way to get our name out there is the football team. There are tons of small colleges with great academics, but nobody has ever heard of them.”
MacDonald acknowledges that much has been said and written about how college athletics have gotten out of hand and too much emphasis is placed on football, but he doesn’t place Boise State among the college football behemoths that dominate the polls and the headlines. At Boise State “it’s not a zero-sum game,” he said. “One area is not taking away from the other.”

When he compares Boise State to most of the other ranked teams in the nation, it’s clear to MacDonald that Hawkins runs a lean program that has done more with less. “I read a report where it said we are 97th in the country in football expenditures,” MacDonald said. “We’re not Michigan or USC, both of which spent more than $10 million on football; we spent about $2.25 or $2.5 million.”

It’s all part of what makes the Boise State football team one of the best feel-good stories going. And why the rest of the university is glad to ride its coattails.

Bob Evancho is Boise State’s associate director of communications.

Hawaiians Played Key Role in Boise State’s Early Football Fortunes

Posted by on Jan 16, 2017 in Selected Articles | 0 comments

(An abridged version of the following article was originally published in the winter 2002 edition of FOCUS, Boise State University’s alumni magazine.)

By Bob Evancho


Thirty years ago Chester Grey, a freshman running back on the Boise State football team, stood on the Bronco Stadium field and gazed at the dark, wintry sky in amazement. “It was late November 1971 during practice; we were preparing for the Camellia Bowl,” the Hawaii native recalls. “We were all bundled up because of the cold. We had just run a play, and all of a sudden this white stuff started coming out of the sky.”

A newcomer to the mainland, Grey was mesmerized by the falling snow. “I looked up and little flakes started floating through my face mask. I remember how neat I thought it was and how soft they felt on my face. I just stared at the sky, lost in the moment.”

From a few yards away, head coach Tony Knap and some of his assistants watched in amusement. The 18-year-old Grey’s one-with-nature experience lasted but a few seconds as Knap’s voice pierced through the cold afternoon air. “Hey, Chester!” the coach yelled, trying not to laugh. “Get back to the huddle! We’ve got plays to run!”

Jolted back to reality by his coach’s admonition, Grey recalls feeling slightly embarrassed as he stood there gaping at what was a common wintertime occurrence in Idaho. Knap, however, wasn’t poking fun at the youngster; it wasn’t the first time the coach had witnessed one his Hawaiian players reacting to his first snowfall. “As I returned to the huddle and we ran the next play, Tony and the other coaches were still laughing,” Grey recalls. “Tony always had fun with the Hawaiian guys.”

Even those vaguely familiar with Boise State football lore are aware of the influx of gridiron talent that arrived from the Hawaiian Islands to play for the Broncos. The late Peter Kim, a Hawaiian educator with Idaho ties, began the Hawaii-Boise State connection in the 1950s, sending hopeful young islanders to faraway Idaho and what was then Boise Junior College — a place most of them had never seen — to play for a head coach many of them had never met. Fortunately for them, that coach happened to be Lyle Smith, or, beginning in 1968, Tony Knap.

The pipeline that once gushed a steady stream of football talent through the late ’50s and into the ’60s slowed to a trickle by the end of the ’70s and has all but dried up today. But the legacy of the approximately 150 former student-athletes from Hawaii who ventured stateside to play Bronco football remains — and most important, it remains with the ex-Broncos because of people like Smith and Knap.

Take 54-year-old pro football executive Adam Rita, who by his own admission, was not the most gifted Hawaiian to play football for the Broncos. Nevertheless, he considers himself one of the most fortunate islanders because he was able to benefit from the care and wisdom of both coaches.

“Basically,” he says, “those two people were the biggest influences of my adult life. Lyle Smith for being patient with me as a coach and always being positive about me, and Tony Knap for everything I know about football. He treated me like a son. I’ve had a great career, and I owe almost everything to them.”

A product of Hawaii’s Kauai High School, Rita (BA, physical education, ’70) played for Smith in 1966 and ’67 before a knee injury cut short his career. In 1968, when Smith became the Broncos’ athletic director and handed the football reins to Knap, the new coach gave Rita his first job as an assistant. Rita went on to enjoy a successful coaching career, primarily in the Canadian Football League, and is currently the general manager of the CFL’s B.C. Lions.

Now 48 years old and a veteran coach himself, Grey (BS, secondary education, ’75) also says the lessons he learned from Knap as a player (1971-74) and later as an assistant with the Bronco football program (1975-80, the last four years with Jim Criner) still influence the decisions he makes today as the track and sophomore football coach at Boise’s Borah High School. “Tony is one of the great ones; he was definitely one of my mentors,” says Grey. “When I’m coaching I think of him often and ask myself, ‘How would Tony handle this situation?’”

Smith’s former players speak with equal affection. Among them is George Tavares, the first Hawaiian to play football at BJC. “Of all the people I have met in athletics, I have never run across a man like Lyle Smith,” says the 70-year-old Caldwell resident. “There was something special about him, even when you first met him. It didn’t matter who you were or where you were from, he treated everyone the same. I think that’s one reason he did so well as a coach, all of his players played hard for him because they didn’t want to disappoint him.”

No one is naive enough to believe that each and every Hawaiian football player who came to Boise State had a warm-all-over, feel-good experience like those of Rita, Grey and Tavares. But with Smith and Knap running the show and teaching their young charges about both football and life, the vast majority of the islanders — at least the more than a dozen interviewed for this article — share memories that are similar.


They came to Boise a lifetime ago — most of them as 17- and 18-year-olds who had never been off the islands. Almost all of them arrived in Idaho sight unseen to play football, to get a college education, to see the world. For most of them, that first impression wasn’t very favorable.

“When my plane landed [in 1971] my first thought was, ‘What the hell have I done?!’” remembers Grey. “Seriously, all I saw was sagebrush. It reminded me of a western movie. I swear, I thought they were going to pick me up at the airport in a horse and buggy.”

John Kauinana (BA, secondary education, ’69) recalls having similar misgivings. A standout lineman for Kaimuki High, he accepted a scholarship from Boise Junior College in 1964 and flew to the States for the first time that summer. “On the flight from Reno to Boise it was all desert,” says the 55-year-old educator who recently retired as athletic director at Honolulu’s Mililani High School. “When the plane landed in Boise all I saw was desert; I didn’t want to get off.”

Bruce Wong (BBA, ’72), a 52-year-old teacher from Honolulu, remembers being equally alarmed when he arrived in Boise for the first time in 1967. “As we got off the plane, [fellow Hawaii recruit] Jeff Murishero and I looked at each other and said, ‘What have we gotten ourselves into?!’ We saw some buildings at Gowen Field and said, ‘Is that the college?!’ I remember the desert and the heat waves coming off the runway; it was not a very inviting sight. But when Lyle picked us up and took us to the college we felt a little better.”

“I remember stepping off the plane in August; all the fields were lush because of the irrigation,” says Glenn Solem, 57, a captain with the Honolulu Fire Department who played end for Smith in 1962 and ’63. “I thought it was quite beautiful because it was so green. I kind of felt at home — that is, until the snow storms came that winter.”

Some, like Grey and Tavares, fell for the charms of the Northwest and remained in the Boise area. Others, like Rita, moved elsewhere on the continent. Many returned to the Islands and became teachers, coaches, businessmen, firemen.

On this Thursday evening in Honolulu, 48 hours before the University of Hawaii hosts Boise State at Aloha Stadium, there is a reunion of ex-Broncos from Hawaii. They have gathered with friends and spouses; some members of Boise State’s athletic department, booster club and alumni association; and a few other guests to eat, drink, reminisce and pay homage to their old coaches.

One of the coaches, the venerable Smith, is here with his wife, Eleanor, for a heartwarming reunion with his former players. Knap isn’t here, but his presence is felt just the same. To a man, the ex-Broncos, whose ages range from late 40s to mid-60s, speak about their coaches, their alma mater and their time in Idaho with warmth and affection; their words are sincere and heartfelt.

Honolulu teachers Wong and Jacob Hoopai (BA, education, ’71) are two of the lucky ones; they got to play for both Smith and Knap during Boise State’s transition from a two- to a four-year program.

Hoopai, 53, calls his experience in Boise and the opportunity to learn from both men “the greatest time in my life.” A guard and tackle from 1967-70, he was named the Broncos’ most inspirational player his sophomore and senior seasons. What initially impressed him most, he says, was the Broncos’ winning tradition.

“We were aware at the time that Boise was one of the top junior-college teams in the nation. That was impressive to a lot of Hawaiians,” says Hoopai, who has taught at McKinley High, his alma mater, for the last 31 years. “We thought it would be great to play on an outstanding team like BJC. And in the long run, it was one of the best decisions I ever made.”

When asked about the fondest memories of their playing days at BJC, the older players invariably begin to talk about their coach.

“In my mind, Lyle Smith is one of the greatest college football coaches of all time at any level,” says 61-year-old Honolulu union official Willie Crozier, a backup guard on the 1958 national championship team. “He is a great man; he was a father figure who gave us direction and discipline.”

Sixty-three-year-old teacher George Naukana, one of five Peter Kim recruits who came to BJC in 1956, calls Smith “one of my heroes.” Although he played just one year for BJC, earning All-America honors as a tackle, that single season in Boise made a lasting impression. “Lyle was a man of his word,” says the former Kaimuki High School coach who completed his collegiate playing career at Hawaii from 1958-60. “He treated all of the Hawaiian kids well and took good care of us; we all came back happy.”

“Coach Smith and BJC were instrumental in making a lot of us the successes we are,” says Honolulu educator Gerald Smith, 61, a member of the ’58 title team. “Quite a few of us went on to become coaches and teachers, and I know that some of us have tried to emulate him over the years in the way we have dealt with kids. I know he has been an influence on my career.”

“Boise was a great place to be,” says Kauinana, who only played one year for the Broncos because of a leg injury but remained in Boise to get his four-year degree. “There were lots of friendly people who cared about us. Going there was the best experience of my life.”

Says Hoopai: “Living in Boise was a great experience for us Hawaiians. We got to feed on potatoes instead of rice and poi. I love potatoes now.”

The cultural and language barriers, the former players say, were minor.

“A lot of us spoke broken English,” says Hoopai. “But we learned to slow down when we talked. In my case, I took English classes; that helped quite a bit.”
“We really weren’t treated any differently. With two Hawaiians already in the program, I didn’t have that feeling of isolation,” says Naukana. “I don’t recall experiencing any negative feedback or prejudice in Boise. We were treated fairly and had a great experience.”


The uncondensed story is a bit complicated and involves dozens of characters, subplots and interesting twists. Take Grey, for example.

Recruited out of Honolulu’s McKinley High in 1971 by then-Bronco assistant Rita, Grey became a Bronco assistant coach when his playing days were over and helped Criner successfully recruit David Hughes of Honolulu’s Kamehameha High in 1977. Hughes, perhaps the best-known Hawaiian to don the blue and orange, went on to play for six years in the NFL with Seattle and Pittsburgh. Hughes’ great-uncle is Peter Kim.

A star athlete for the College of Idaho in the late 1920s, Kim remained in the Treasure Valley for a number of years after he graduated from the Caldwell school, teaching and working in the area’s high school coaching ranks. Meanwhile, Smith took over as BJC football coach in 1947 and began building one of the top junior-college programs in the United States. During Smith’s early years at BJC, Kim returned to Hawaii to teach and coach at Honolulu’s Kaimuki High, but before he departed, he approached Smith about the possibility of recruiting Hawaiian football players for the Broncos, a proposition to which Smith agreed.

Back on his home turf, Kim became the Treasure Valley’s top salesman, singing the praises of Idaho’s friendly people and telling high school football players with college aspirations about the great opportunities that were available at his alma mater and Boise Junior College — the up and-coming two-year school 20 miles down the road. Among the Kaimuki athletes who took Kim’s advice was Tavares, who first matriculated at C of I, then transferred to BJC in 1952.

“When Pete returned to Hawaii he kept a soft spot in his heart for the Boise valley,” says the legendary Smith, who compiled a remarkable 156-26-6 record in his 20 years as Bronco coach. “For several years he sent Hawaiian players to both BJC and C of I.”

A sales pitch by Kim and a letter from Smith to a prospect and his coach often did the trick. “One selling point was if there was some indecision as to where a young man wanted to go to school, I would tell him that this was a good starting point,” says the 85-year-old Smith. “I always thought of that as the JC advantage. I used it as a recruiting tool all the time, and not just with the Hawaiian players. I would tell all of them that if they knew where they wanted to go and had a program all lined up, they were probably better off staying with that plan. But if they weren’t sure, they could get a good education for two years at BJC and make up their mind [about a four-year school] later.”

Since most of the Hawaiians with college football potential had never been to the mainland and college recruiters were flocking to the islands, Smith’s pitch was enticing indeed.

There were other factors that allowed the BJC football program to corner the market on the islands’ high-school football talent pool for much of the 1950s and ’60s.
First, because long-distance telecommunications, television and commercial air travel were just beginning to have their profound effect on society, Hawaii, by and large, was still perceived by many Americans — including college football recruiters — as some sort of exotic locale with uncultivated natives living in grass huts. While most college football programs didn’t give much thought to the availability of standout football players from the islands, the Broncos were able to avail themselves of those talents for a number of years before the larger schools began to horn in.

Interestingly, it was in 1959, when Hawaii became the 50th state, when the pipeline was at its peak.

The second factor was word of mouth. The pipeline was primed by Tavares’ arrival in 1952, and by the mid-1950s it was yielding a steady flow of Hawaiian athletes who told their fellow islanders about the little school in Boise that played kick-butt football. “Kids from Hawaii would go off and play at BJC and come back and tell other kids,” says Boise resident Len Chow, 61, who joined the Bronco program after he graduated from Honolulu’s St. Louis High in 1958. “One of the reasons I ended up in Boise is because I had a couple of buddies [from Hawaii] who were already on the team. It was just a chain reaction.”

Says Smith: “Once those connections got started, the pipeline pretty much became self-perpetuating.”

Third was the opportunity to experience life in another setting. Many of the Hawaiian recruits saw a scholarship to play college football as their ticket off the islands and, in some cases, a chance to escape their confined, hardscrabble existence. “A lot of them led ghetto lives; they saw going to BJC as an opportunity to go elsewhere and better themselves,” says Chow.

Tavares agrees. “When I was in high school I started to feel like I was cooped up,” he says. “I mean, in a matter of a few hours, you can drive around the entire island [of Oahu]. My brothers would never live anywhere other than Hawaii. By I like to travel and see other places, so I decided to go to Idaho. Then I later decided to stay [on the mainland].”

From a football perspective, the infusion of Hawaiian student athletes only made Smith’s JC powerhouse that much more powerful. By 1967, Smith’s last season as coach and BJC’s final year in the junior-college ranks, approximately 50 Hawaiians — including All-Americans Naukana, Herb Halliwell, Frank Kaaa, Milt Kanehe, Harry Keohola and Don Neves — played for the Broncos. Thirteen Hawaiians, including Chow, a backup guard, were on the roster of BJC’s undefeated 1958 national junior college championship team.

“The Hawaiian players had a tremendous impact on our success,” says Smith. “They were outstanding competitors with a strong work ethic.”
And when Knap took over in 1968, the tradition continued.

“I inherited quite a few Hawaiian players from Lyle, and those players helped us recruit more of them,” says the 86-year-old former coach from his home in Walla Walla, Wash. “Those kids helped form the backbone of the whole program. My perception was that they loved the school and they loved the city of Boise.

“They had a unique connection with each other. They would eat, sing, fight together. They were fun to be around, not only for the coaches, but also for the other players. There always seemed to be laughter when the Hawaiian players were around.”

One of the Hawaiians who caused a lot of laughs was Honolulu native Charlie Russell, a rough-and-tumble, 288-pound offensive tackle who came to Boise State in 1973 with an, um, checkered background. At the Thursday evening reunion the 56-year-old Russell laughs, croons karoaka at the bar and visits with Smith and his fellow ex-Broncos.

But during a serious moment, he is asked about the impact that Boise State has had on him. It’s been more than 25 years since his playing days, but his response is immediate. His story began, he says, in 1972 when he wrote to Knap from prison in Washington state, asking for a chance to play college football. “I was aware that there were several Hawaiians who had played at Boise State,” he says. “Tony wrote back and I eventually ended up in Boise.

“I was definitely rough around the edges; very quick to react. But Tony really worked on me. Some people expected a Hawaiian guy with a short fuse like me to mess up, and sometimes I did. Sure, I was impulsive. But Tony and the other coaches never gave up on me. I came to Boise State a convict and I had that mind-set when I first got there. But Tony and others there taught me how to simmer down, how to study and how to work at becoming successful.”

And Russell did just that, returning to Hawaii and eventually becoming vice president for a Honolulu travel agency.

“I owe all that to Boise State. I turned the corner at Boise State because they cared about me. I’ll tell you what. If Tony called me today and said he needed me, I’d be in Walla Walla tomorrow.

“It was a great time in Boise. The coaches, the guys I played football with and the people I met were all family; it was like an extended family.”

Ohana. In Hawaiian it means family.

Busted Bronco on Dialogue

Posted by on Nov 10, 2011 in Selected Articles | 0 comments

Busted Bronco on Dialogue

Busted Bronco (Dialogue)

In 2003, former Boise State All-American defensive end and Montana State University football coach Joe O’Brien experienced a stunning downfall. He was arrested for his part in an illegal drug distribution scheme and sentenced to federal prison. How did this charismatic leader and NFL hopeful hide years of addiction? And after more than two years in prison, how did he turn his life around?

Joan Cartan-Hansen talks with O’Brien and Boise writer Bob Evancho, co-author of O’Brien’s life story, Busted Bronco: From Addiction to Redemption. The book goes into painful detail about O’Brien’s personal struggles, but it also recounts O’Brien’s story of redemption and renewal.

Bob Evancho on Dialogue – Gene Harris/ Biography

Posted by on Apr 7, 2005 in Selected Articles | 0 comments

Gene Harris/ Biography (Dialogue)

Jazz great and Grammy award winning pianist Gene Harris became a household name in Boise, Idaho. His passing in 2000 was a personal loss for many and for the century-old music traditions of jazz and rhythm and blues.

Joan Cartan-Hansen interviews Janie Harris and Bob Evancho, co-authors of “Elegant Soul, The Life and Music of Gene Harris.” Harris and Evancho took more than three years of research and travel to write the book which includes interviews with childhood friends, family, bandmates and journalists.

Learn more about the namesake of Idaho’s annual “Gene Harris Jazz Festival” and the contributions he made to music and to the lives of those he touched.