Wright gave life to HPU sports HPU's president planning to retire
By Ferd Lewis
When tiny Hawai'i Pacific College announced it was starting an athletic program in 1977, one of the first questions it faced was: "Hawai'i Pacific ... what?"
Exactly, school officials said.
The then-500 student, primarily business-oriented downtown school sought wider recognition and its newly seated president, Chatt G. Wright, had just the bold idea: begin an athletics program.
Wright was a little over a year into his presidency back then, but well ahead of his time.
Now, as he prepares to head into retirement at what has become thriving 8,200-student Hawai'i Pacific University, the 68-year-old Wright can take credit for not only a place that has had its moments as a widely successful athletic program but with helping shape the small college sports landscape in Hawai'i.
The Sea Warriors' winnings have included an NAIA national basketball championship (1993) and three women's volleyball titles (1990, 1998 and 2000) spread across NAIA and NCAA Division II membership. All of which have helped the school carve a community identity well beyond its Fort Street Mall heart.
"None of those sports made money but he (Wright) recognized the importance of athletics and what it means to the fabric of the school," recalls ESPN sportscaster Neil Everett, a former sports information director at HPU.
In addition to helping HPU expand its brand, sports gave the school something to rally around and a building block toward establishing a college atmosphere at a commuter school.
Meanwhile, Wright strayed little from the scene of the action as it grew from men's basketball to a 12-sport enterprise. "When you refer to the President of the United States being the first fan, well, he (Wright) exemplified the same thing at the college level," Everett said. "He was a fan at heart, a big baseball guy especially, who took an interest in his teams."
Tony Sellitto, who guided the Sea Warriors to 13 winning basketball seasons in 16 campaigns and the NAIA title, said: "None of it would have been possible without him (Wright). Take my word for it."
Though it wasn't the first small college athletic program in Hawai'i, HPU's emerging success helped raise the competitive level throughout the state and across the sports spectrum.
"You can't talk about (small college sports) in Hawai'i without mentioning him (Wright)," Sellitto said.
And you can no longer say: "Hawai'i Pacific ... what?"