Seabury Hall to Honor Long-time A.D. Steve Colflesh
“When all is said and done, the lessons learned and the memories determine the success of a program. Thanks for sharing this part of your lives with us.” ~ Steve Colflesh, 1986 Yearbook
By Rodney S. Yap
The countdown on Steve Colflesh’s incredible 30-year career at Seabury Hall officially ended last Saturday at graduation.
Tonight, May 31, at the ‘A’ali’ikuhonua Creative Arts Center on the Olinda campus, Colflesh will be honored at an invitation-only celebration.
Ironically, Colflesh’s pronouncement of the Seabury experience — documented in the school’s yearbook 27 years ago — accurately describes his sentiment today and is one of many fundamentally sound practices he used initially to ground the Spartan athletic department, and then to elevate the program to the Division II power it is today.
“Steve has left an amazing legacy. There are people who interview for jobs like this, and people say, ‘He’s going to be a tough act to follow.’ The truth of the matter is, Steve has made it so it’s an easy act to follow. Because he’s created such wonderful success here that the next person who takes over just needs to keep moving forward with a little creativity and they’ll just build on Steve’s success,” said Joe Schmidt, the school’s headmaster.
“Steve is actually the reason I came to Seabury Hall… So I have known Steve for more than 20 years and when I look at Steve’s work we can look at all the programs he’s developed and the successes the team’s have had, but where it comes from is an incredible level of integrity. You can trust and believe in Steve, that he is doing it for young people, he’s doing it for the school, he’s not doing it for his own glory. And his commitment and belief in athletics has really allowed him to create what I consider to be one of the very, very fine programs in the state when you think of the size of school we are and the successes we’ve had.”
Two years ago the school won a record 10 Maui Interscholastic League championships. The paddling team won the MIL’s only girls state title in 2012-2013 and the girls track team finished runner-up in the state for the second time in three years.
“I came in 1980 for a year, then left and went back to the mainland,” said the 65-year-old Colflesh in his office earlier this month. “I didn’t know if this was the place I wanted to spend the rest of my life. And I was fortunate that I got to do the things I had to do and I realized I didn’t want to be head football coach like I thought I did.”
That’s when he and his wife, Melissa, decided to make the move to Maui permanent.
“Oh my God, it’s been life changing, just spectacular,” he said. “I guess in the back of my mind I always wanted to coach at a small school, to know every kid really well and coach every sport. I got caught up ego wise in Southern California and wanting to be head football coach. Later I realized it was not the best thing for me or our my family so we made the move here.”
Looking out the window of his second-floor office in the Erdman Athletic Center, Colflesh points to the panoramic view of the north shore and central Maui.
“I’m just a lucky guy. I feel so lucky.
“We’ve had great leaders here with Tom Olverson and Joe Schmidt and we have tremendous parents and great kids. We live in a very special place, I can’t imagine it getting much better than this. Just look at the view.
“Tom’s really the guy who turned this school around,” Colflesh continued. “He believed in a mission. He said he wasn’t going to make any changes his first year. In November he fired his first teacher and walks in the office and goes, ‘I not going to have the parents pay for mediocrity.’ I said if we go under, I don’t care, because we’re doing it for the right reasons.”
Schmidt shared a story Colflesh told him.
“He tells a story of when he first became the athletic director, one of the old legendary teachers here at the school looked at him and said, ‘What are your goals?’ And Steve said, ‘I would like to win an MIL Championship.’ And the teacher looked at him and said, ‘Good luck, that will never happen.’
“Then I go down (Erdman Athletic Center) and look at all the banners on the walls and he’s far transcended that. But it’s all about respect, it’s all about integrity, it’s all about his beliefs in athletics as part of the whole child’s education, and never in conflict with the academic part of the school, always in concert with the school.”
Colflesh refused to single out any championship teams or individuals.
“I think its unfair. Are we saying to the kids who didn’t win championships that their season wasn’t successful?” he asked. “I’ve coached teams that were great, we didn’t win championships necessarily, but we had great kids. I don’t want a kid walking into the gym and looking, ‘Oh we skipped a year.’ I understand and appreciate what they did (with the championship banners), they did a great job putting them up, they look wonderful… It’s not what we’re doing this for. If it was than we’d go out and recruit and get the best kids and we’d beat everybody in everything. But that’s not what we are doing.”
In 2009, the Honolulu Quarterback Club gave Colflesh the Paul Durham Award for his years of devotion and exemplary efforts to bring great recognition to sports in Hawaii. Iolani’s long-time football coach and athletic director Eddie Hamada won the inaugural award in 2007 and Punahou athletic director Ralph Martinson was honored in 2008.
Colflesh has had the rare opportunity to have worked with former MIL executive directors Bobby Matsumoto, Stephen Kim, Kenji Kawaguchi, and current executive director Joe Balangitao.
“I’m really proud of the MIL. We’re the one league that does the Divisions right. The people that represent our league care about kids first and foremost. What’s best for the kids and how can we make the program here better? That’s huge and that growth has been wonderful. I truly believe this, it’s never about winning and losing. So when a students comes back (Alumni Feedback Program) and talks to us about the lessons they’ve learned and they go off and become great citizens, that’s the highlight.”
At Seabury, Colflesh said: “It’s important to remember to do the little things… You only have the kids for seven years maximum and their parents are investing a lot of money. And for some of these families it’s a huge sacrifice. So for us not to [ask] what can we do to be better, would be wrong.”
When Colflesh started in 1984 he coached boys and girls volleyball. In the following 10 years his teams went to state seven times and he was named MIL Coach of the Year on six different occasions. Between 2002-2006, Colflesh again coached the girls volleyball team, this time they rolled up 48 consecutive MIL victories. He is the only certified master athletic administrator in the state of Hawaii and last year returned to the football sidelines to help the Spartans’ win the MIL 8-man football championship.
About the dominant years in MIL girls volleyball with Kaimana Lee (Brummel), Lecca Roberts and Lauren Powley, Colflesh simple says, “That time was special.”
About the rush he got coaching football again, he said: “That was the greatest.”
“I think Steve’s work at bringing 8-man football to this community is going to be a legacy that will last for a long, long time. Because there are so many smaller schools that want to participate in that. Steve was really the force behind that and I’m thrilled with it and I’ll tell you why, because it gives boys an opportunity in the fall that they didn’t have before and it’s been done with balance.”
The school has chosen former head football coach and assistant athletic director of College of the Sequoias, Robert Dougherty, to replace Colflesh.
“He’s going to come in June 3 and Steve is going to mentor him for the first month and half,” Schmidt said of Dougherty.
“Robert’s going to great,” added Colfelsh, who plans to attend the Hawaii Interscholastic Athletic Directors Association’s annual conference with Dougherty, June 6-9.
Maui Now will post an exclusive interview with Dougherty, Saturday, June 1.
When family, friends and former colleague’s of Colflesh thank him tonight for three decades of service at Seabury, the always humble coach will make sure to do the same.
“I just want to say thanks to anyone who has gone through this program and has helped in any way.”