|How It All Began...|
"Coach, how about inviting Mike Peppe's perennial collegiate champion Ohio State University's swimming team for a major meet here ?" It was Keo Nakama's wish, following his return to Honolulu after his graduation from the Buckeye Institution, in 1946, to invite his former team and teammates over as an outstanding swimming attraction and event.
So, with the help of George Higa (owner of the Honolulu Cafe at that time) and sports promoter Ralph Yempuku (a bosom friend of George), the first Keo Nakama Swimming Meet was held at the famous Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium.
Up to the inaugural meet, Keo had captained some of the greatest championship teams at his Alma Mater; in addition, he was the University's baseball captain in his final year.
The visiting Buckeyes team consisted of some of the nation's outstanding swimmers and champions including Jim Counselman (present coach of Indiana University); Halo Hirose, Keo's former teammate; Al Wiggins; and Jack Hill, the great middle distance champion.
Keo and I pondered on a appropriate name for the meet. I settled on the idea that we should perpetuate his name since he had done so fabulously with his swimming exploits here and in college. I wanted the "Keo Nakama Swimming Meet" to be a reminder that it was Keo, more than anyone else during his time, who had brought about the renaissance of swimming to Hawaii when it was at a standstill following the days of Duke Kahanamoku, Buster Crabbe, and the Kalili boys. Since the first meet, the great University of Michigan swimming team (coached by now deceased Matt Mann) was invited to follow its arch-rival here for the second Keo Nakama Meet; again the meet was held at the Waikiki Natatorium.
|by Coach Soichi Sakamoto...|
Thereon, some of the world's greatest swimmers made their appearances here from 1948-1972. Included among them were: Japan's great Furuhashi (who blazed the trail in swimming the 1500 meters below the 19 minute barrier); Masao Furukawa (the 1956 Olympic breaststroke gold medalist); and Shiro Hashizumi; Australia's Jon Henricks (the 100 meter freestyle champion in 1956). Among the United States' cream of the crop swimmers and divers were: Chris Von Saltzer (1960-1964 Olympic great); Pat McCormick and Sammy Lee (Olympic diving champions 1948, 1952, 1956 respectively); Barbara Strak (another backstroke star); Bumpy Jones (University of Michigan's great IM Swimmer); Bill Yorzyk (American butterfly champ); George Breen (Coach Counselman's U.S. distance titalist); Frank McKinney (Indiana's twice 2nd place winner in the 1956 and 1960 Olympics); Shelly Mann (Washington, D.C.'s U.S. butterfly gold medalist); Gail Peters (perennial winner in National championship); and many others.
From 1948-1972 the Keo Meets were filled with pageantries and they included parades, Queen of the Meet, Royal Hawaiian Band, military bands, Hawaiian music and entertainment, synchronized swimming and water ballet, clown diving, swimming exhibitions (Johnny Weismuller and Duke Kahanamoku), and the presence and appearance of movie stars - Edward G. Robinson, John Wayne and Danny Kaye. Caroline Kennedy also was present when she was 9 years old.
The Keo Nakama Meets were staged at the Waikiki War Memorial's 100 meter pool. It was changed on two occasions to a 50 meter pool with bulkhead. During those years, the meets were held for two weeks, one in the 50 meter pool at Farrington High School and Kaimuki High School.
Attendance wise, the earliest Keo Nakama Meets, were paid admission, were outstanding as the permanent and temporary bleachers were packed solid with standing room only.
Hawaii will long remember Casey Nakama, a combination athlete - a swimmer and a baseball player!