While UH seeks a committee to seek a new athletic director, former Chaminade athletic director Mike Vasconcellos’ passing allows reflection on a simpler time in local sports.
While the “Miracle on Ward Avenue” – the Silverswords’ upset of No. 1-ranked Virginia in 1982 – is archived in college-basketball lore, what is forgotten is the tiny school still operated on an austere budget after that game. There were no upgrades to McCabe Gym, no increases in personnel, and Vasconcellos and coach Merv Lopes still worked in the “Shack.” (Two years later, though, NAIA District 2 was reclassified as Hawaii-only District 29.)
All of which meant that Vasconcellos, as Chaminade’s athletic director for three decades through the 1990s, still hustled and maneuvered for every cent that went into the program. The eventual creation of the Maui Classic infused money into the athletic program. But for the most part, Chaminade survived because of Vasconcellos, who: 1) Took a chance in hiring Lopes, and 2) Continued to develop deep and sincere friendships. Under Vasconcellos, Chaminade’s bills were always paid and either the facilities were not an issue or used as David-themed motivation. Vasconcellos even helped find off-season jobs for UH football players.
People outside his circle sometimes liked him, sometimes didn’t like him as much. But his true friends always were loyal, helping Chaminade and, eventually, helping Vasconcellos after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
The lesson of the Tinman is a “heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.” Several bosses and cohorts – the late Bill Walsh, Dick Vermeil, John Ralston, Dick Tomey, Lopes, Chuck Williams, Elroy Chong – were lifelong friends. Walsh, unsolicited, would send checks to a mutual friend to help cover Vasconcellos’ medical and living expenses.
Chong, a former UH quarterback, regularly visited Vasconcellos at the care home in recent years. They spoke of faith, of life’s meaning and, of course, of UH sports. After learning of Vasconcellos’ passing, Chong said: “I had a heart-felt cry.”