On a typical summer day in 1963, father and son were cleaning the family’s back yard.
“And he got a stroke,” said Agenhart Ellis Jr., noting his father suffered partial paralysis on his right side.
Ellis Jr., who had recently completed his freshman season at Kansas, faced a dilemma. As the eldest of six kids, Ellis Jr. was needed at home — to help his mother, who was eight-months pregnant, and to take his father to rehab three times a week. Kansas coach Doug Weaver told Ellis Jr. to take the year off, use it as a redshirt, then return for his sophomore season. Kansas would hold his scholarship. But Ellis knew a year would become a lifetime; family always would come first.
It did not appear UH would be an option, either. According to a UH study, the school’s annual tuition for a resident was $170 for the 1963-64 academic year.
“The thing is,” Ellis Jr. said, “I couldn’t afford that.”
But then UH coach Jimmy Asato said there was enough money to offer Ellis Jr. a scholarship. Ellis Jr. accepted, then went on to play three seasons as a 5-foot-11, 265-pound defensive tackle. Larry Price was his roommate and, a couple years later, his coach.
“The University of Hawaii gave me an opportunity to go to school and get a degree,” Ellis Jr. said.
He eventually had a long career at Farrington High as a teacher, coach and athletic director. One of his hires was Skippa Diaz. Another was Harry Pacarro, whose basketball motto was “run, gun, and have some fun.”
“Those guys were great with kids,” Ellis Jr. said. “That’s all I can ask for. They were legends.”
Ellis Jr.’s son, Agenhart Ellis III, played for the Warriors, and was part of the 1992 team that went 11-2 and won the Holiday Bowl. Ellis III is now Punahou’s defensive coordinator.
“It all worked out,” Ellis Jr. said. “To this day, we’re thankful for the University of Hawaii.”
Ellis Jr. will be the Warriors’ honorary captain for tomorrow’s homecoming football game against Nevada. He will deliver the pre-game speech that might include everything but the origin of the name Agenhart, now carried on to a fourth family member.
“Some people thought I was in the FBI because I’m an ‘agent,'” Ellis Jr. said, laughing. “After you’ve gown up, then you’re proud of (the name). When you’re in kindergarten and the kids can’t pronounce your name, you have to test your spurs. I love the name. I’m proud of it.”