Reaching Out To UH Letterwinners

My old friend state Rep. Mark Takai gave me a call the other day to excitedly tell me about a new title he is adding to his name this month. “I’m the new president of the UH Letterwinners Club. I owe a lot to UH athletics,” he says. “Now, this gives me a real opportunity to give back to my school.”

Takai moved up to Letterwinners president July 1 from the first vice president role he held most recently on the club’s executive board. The former high school all-American swimmer from Pearl City was on the UH swim team in the late ’80s.

“I feel like I got my degree at UH because of swimming,” he says. “Many scholar athletes are like that; they wouldn’t have got a degree without scholarship support.”

Takai not only swam for UH from 1985 to 1989, but he also got involved in student politics. Many sports fans who remember that time period recall him taking his lumps in the local news during the creation of a new mascot – remember “marshmallow man?” – but then he became a very positive part of UH athletic lore with a story behind the scenes.

Takai was partially instrumental in the capacity of the Stan Sheriff Center climbing to 10,000 seats.

“The initial plan was for only 4,000 seats,” he recalls. “Stan Sheriff and I thought this was absolutely ridiculous. (The original plans were saying) that after we build the 4,000-seat arena, they would be able to build an 18,000-seat arena. That was on the plans.”

Takai, in his role as UH student body president, met with then-UH president Al Simone. “He told me they would scrap the plans for the 4,000-seater if I could prove that more seats could fit in the arena.”

Takai says he took the drawing for the smaller arena back to his dorm room and started working on plans for more seating. Days later, he walked back into Simone’s office and showed the president a new design, which fit nearly 9,000 seats. Eventually, Takai’s informal drawings were taken to an architect, and a few months later there were new plans for 10,000 seats.

“I just couldn’t imagine wasting $27 million for a building that on Day One would have been too small to host NCAA volleyball tournaments,” Takai says. “Today, I walk into the arena and beam with pride.”

He has a piece of hardware on his hand to commemorate his involvement during that era. Takai wears a UH ring given to him specially by Sheriff himself, who he says promised it to him if the larger project got approved by the state Legislature, which it ultimately did.

Takai is hoping his enthusiasm and leadership will help recruit former lettermen and women at UH to get involved again. The mission of the Letterwinners Club is to promote fellowship, encourage loyalty and service to, and pride in the UH.

“We need these people back in the loop supporting our alma mater,” he says.

He encourages former UH student athletes to call him at 330-6275 or email

“With the transition to the new conference (the Mountain West for football and the Big West for other sports), our alma mater needs us more than ever,” he says. “I agree with Jim Donovan when he says ‘UH athletics is the front porch of the university.’ When the Warriors win, Hawaii wins, too.”