Joe Blackburn coaches his Wailuku Wolfpack workforce in a championship recreation for the HI Definition Basketball League final month. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photograph

People Who Made a Difference: Sports Edition is a particular collection recognizing these within the Maui County sports activities neighborhood who’ve made vital impacts. Stories will run periodically this summer season in The Maui News.

WAILUKU — Joe Blackburn is a basketball lifer. When he noticed the game stagnating on the Valley Isle, he discovered a method — with the assistance of these round him — to make issues a bit higher.

Blackburn teamed with Stephanie Castro and Jeremy Lizada to work with Maui County officers and get the HI Definition Basketball League going for a two-month run in May and June. It was the primary organized basketball performed on Maui since issues have been shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

“For me it was to give the kids something to look forward to,” Blackburn stated earlier this month. “Because we were practicing and I’m sure there were other teams that were practicing, but you couldn’t make any kind of reservation or permit, so you kind of practiced at your own risk. You could only use outdoor courts.”

Blackburn was the commissioner of the HDBL that had 25 groups take part in divisions that included highschool boys, highschool ladies, eighth-ninth grade boys, sixth-seventh grade boys, and sixth-seventh grade ladies.

“They all got in 10 games, at least, per team — we had league play and (double-elimination) playoffs,” Blackburn stated. “This was on short notice, we got this league rocking and rolling within about three weeks after getting notice that we could get our permit for the courts.”

Blackburn was cited by county officers for holding an organized apply earlier than the HDBL received going, however that quotation has since been rescinded.

“Originally I made a proposal to the county to run the Menehune league,” Blackburn stated. “They stated simply maintain on a bit as a result of we wish to run the Menehune league — the Menehune league, so far as I do know, has been in existence for about 75 years. It has all the time been the No. 1 factor that center faculty basketball gamers look ahead to.

“It was unique among the islands because we’re the only island that had an islandwide, county-sponsored league. … That was where you prep for high school.”

Lizada, a coach for Lights Out Basketball, referred to as Blackburn and stated they need to maintain a protest over the dearth of alternative to play the sport in an organized trend, even on outside courts.

“We waited after which coach Jeremy referred to as me about ‘Let’s do a protest,’ after which the county referred to as him and stated, ‘Look, we’re keen to work with you,’ “ Blackburn stated. “That’s when Jeremy, Stephanie and myself received collectively and stated, ‘OK, we got the go-ahead, but the timeframe we don’t know’ as a result of as quickly because the gyms open they’re going to drag our allow.

“So we had to put something together real quick and that’s what we did.”

Castro is a coach for Lights Out Basketball Club who collaborated on the HDBL.

“I know Joe from basketball in general, but we worked really closely together on the HI Definition Maui Basketball League,” Castro stated Thursday from a event in Las Vegas. “Joe is all in regards to the youngsters, his foremost focus is on the children. Whenever we have now questions relating to something, it’s like, ‘OK, how is it going to affect the kids?’

“Working with Joe we all the time know his intentions are good. Always, it doesn’t matter what it was. So, he was a simple particular person to say, ‘Hey, let’s work collectively and do that.’ “

Castro stated Blackburn was the driving power behind the league, which was capable of get going rapidly beneath his non-profit basis that was already acknowledged by Maui County.

“Joe knows so many people, he’s got good connections with everybody, good relationships with everybody in the community, so it made it that much easier to say, like, ‘Hey, how are we going to put this together?’ “ Castro said. “He just helped us to make that happen.”

Lizada, who was on the similar event in Las Vegas, has additionally identified Blackburn for many years. Lizada additionally coaches for Lights Out.

“We’ve competed against each other for several years through the basketball community,” Lizada stated. “Just lately Joe and I had labored on some initiatives collectively and have become comparatively shut. I’ve identified of Joe for a few years. … It was straightforward to work with coach Joe.

“I talked with Joe and I said: ‘Joe, let’s get together and let’s start this league.’ And that’s how it started. … I thought it was very successful. With our high hopes, we hope that the league becomes an annual thing.”

Blackburn’s first basketball teaching job was a males’s workforce for 18- to 25-year-olds at Kuhio Park Terrace on Oahu in 1974.

“It was a pretty interesting experience,” Blackburn stated. “They were pretty rugged.”

Blackburn performed basketball at Maryknoll School for Tony Sellitto — “They called him ‘Tough Tony’ and he was,” Blackburn stated — earlier than attending Cal State University Chico, the place he earned a bachelor’s diploma in enterprise.

He later earned a level in public hearth administration, and a grasp’s from the University of Hawaii in larger training administration.

Blackburn moved to Maui in 1975 and began “as lower than a busboy” at Nick’s Fish Market restaurant earlier than getting employed by Maui County within the Parks and Recreation Department in Lahaina.

It was there he gained his first teaching job on Maui, teaching the Lahaina boys within the Maui Menehune League. He has coached on the Menehune degree “on and off” ever since.

He and Clayton Suzuki began the Waikapu Menehune workforce many years in the past. Blackburn has been the coach of the Wailuku Menehune workforce for the final 10 years.

“In between that I coached Maui High varsity girls and boys, I coached Kamehameha (Maui) girls high school and I coached Lahainaluna JV,” he stated. “My love has always been Menehune. I’ve always come back to Menehune just because that’s where I felt I could do the most good.”

Blackburn, who lately celebrated his 69th birthday, retired in 2008 as a hearth rescue captain for the Maui Fire Department, then went to Maui Electric and retired because the MECO security director after a pair years. Now, he owns his personal enterprise that handles actual property gross sales and manages home-owner associations.

The smiles on the faces of the children on HDBL championship weekend in late June at outside courts at Lihikai Intermediate School and Kahului Elementary School stated all of it. Blackburn was all smiles, too, even after his Wailuku Wolfpack workforce misplaced in its championship recreation.

“A lot of the other coaches came up to me and Jeremy and Stephanie also, and just said: ‘Thank you so much for doing this because the kids actually got to play,’ especially kids who were seniors in high school who didn’t even get to play,” Blackburn stated. “For me as a coach, we might lastly get the children going. We would apply, however it was all the time only a enjoyable apply.

“Now, we could actually set our sights on actual basketball, do something besides drills and actually prepare for teams. That’s what I like as a coach — I like to lose to a team and say, ‘OK, next time around we’re going to make our adjustments.’ For the kids, I could get a little bit more serious with them.”

* Robert Collias is at [email protected]

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