KAHULUI - Curtis Lee's main focus as football coach at Maui High School was not championships.
Lee did earn titles - his 129-69-7 record at the Sabers' helm from 1984 to 2004 included nine Maui Interscholastic League crowns and four Neighbor Island championships - but the first thing he had in mind when he arrived on the Kahului campus was much simpler.
"When I came out of college and I started coaching, I had only one goal in mind," he said. "And that one goal was to send a kid to Division I football on a full scholarship. I didn't think about winning, losing, championships, because (education) is what I got out of it."
Curtis Lee, shown in 2004 during his final game as the coach of Maui High School, guided the Sabers to nine Maui Interscholastic League titles.
THE MAUI NEWS file photo
Lee, who retired from teaching at Maui High in 2008, will be honored for his work as a coach during the Hawaii Interscholastic Athletic Directors Association meeting in June. Two coaches are recognized each year - Lee will be joined by longtime Saint Louis offensive coordinator Vince Passas.
Previous recipients include former Lahainaluna football coach Lanny Tihada and former Baldwin basketball coach and AD Jon Garcia.
"It is nice that maybe people feel like I am in that class," Lee said.
After graduating from the Maui High campus in Hamakuapoko in 1966, Lee went to Kansas State on a football scholarship as a running back. He played two seasons in Manhattan before transferring to Hawaii for his final two years.
"The most important thing that I got out of football was that I got to go to college," he said. "I got that from my coach, Shine Matsui, who is passed now, but I was determined that I was going to give that to at least one of my players."
He did send players to NCAA
D-I schools on scholarship, starting with running back Robert Kemfort, who went to UH in 1996 and eventually became a linebacker before graduating. Later, Leo Caires earned a scholarship as a linebacker at Wyoming after originally going there as a rodeo athlete, and Robert Vickers went to Azusa Pacific. Caires and Vickers are now on the Kamehameha Maui staff.
Lee learned of the HIADA honor Tuesday night from MIL executive director Joe Balangitao.
"I was kind of surprised - not shocked, but surprised - that my name was still out there," Lee said. "I have done my thing and retired, happily, had a great career, that was it. Then (Balangitao) called me and tells me this, and I went, 'Geez, thanks to Joe.' I didn't expect it in the least, never even thought about it for a minute."
Balangitao is a Baldwin graduate and was head coach there from 1990 to 1999 - the Sabers and Bears won all but two MIL titles in that span.
"We had a great rivalry and it was an honor to coach against him," Balangitao said of Lee, whose "Never Surrender" motto described Maui High's tenacity. "I think he made every coach in the league better. You certainly had to get ready for them."
The Sabers are 8-49-1 in the MIL under four different coaches since Lee left, but he said current Maui High teacher David Bui, who guided the team to a 3-5 league mark in his first season in 2011, is getting the job done.
"I think they are on the right track - and I voted for all of the other guys, by the way, I was on each selection committee - but I think that having a faculty member makes all the difference in the world," Lee said. "I didn't think so at first, but I am convinced of it now. Bui is doing an outstanding job."
* Robert Collias is at firstname.lastname@example.org