NVC Newsletter

At Garfield High School, These Walls Can Talk

by Bill Kossen
March 2016, Volume 66, Issue 3

Once upon a time, long before AstroTurf was invented and when high-school football games in Seattle often were played in what was called “a sea of mud,” the best team around was the Garfield Bulldogs, winning the league title nearly every year in the 1930s.

And one of Garfield’s best players was Shiro Kashino, who played quarterback for the 1938 champions, was an All-City lineman the following year and even ran back an interception for a 16-yard touchdown. Scoring one TD was a big deal in an era when sloppy field conditions commonly held game scores down to 7-0, 7-6, 2-0 and 0-0.

Shiro Kashino’s superior athletic abilities were later overshadowed by his heroics in World War II, when he was a member of another squad of champions, the famed all-Nisei 442nd Regiment.  The story of his glory on the field and at war, along with several photos, are featured on the Garfield High School Bulldogs Walls of Fame, where a display honoring him and many other Garfield greats line the walls in the school’s gym.

What began a few years ago as a traditional “Wall of Fame” has grown into a “Walls of Fame,” reflecting the incredible number of excellent student-athletes, coaches and teams that have competed at Garfield, from when it opened in the 1920s to the present.

Shiro Kashino is in very good company, with such Walls of Fame neighbors as Dr. Homer Harris, Dr. Charles Mitchell, Carver Gayton, Ray Soo, Bruce Harrell, Keith Harrell, Coach John Boitano, Coach Frank Ahern, Brandon Roy, Tony Wroten Jr. and Joyce Walker. Also recently installed is a display for another 1930s football player, Sam Bruce, who went on to become a fighter pilot for the famed, all-black Tuskegee Airmen during World War II.

So these are more than just stories about championships won, points scored, records set. They also are inspiring stories about people who overcame adversity, discrimination and other challenges by pulling together as a team, skills that helped them succeed throughout their lives. They are stories that resonate in many communities.   

“Recognizing our diverse history”

Garfield’s official stated mission includes the phrase “recognizing our diverse history.” As many of you know, there have been few schools with as rich a history of diversity as Garfield.

You can really see it in the pictures on the Bulldogs Walls of Fame, which show the big impact that the Japanese American community has had on Garfield’s sterling sports legacy. (Through March 2016, the Bulldogs have won 35 state titles and 144 league championships.)

For example, there is a display featuring a picture of the 1960 Southern Division football champions to go with a story about a time of "unrivaled success" for Garfield football. The Bulldog players listed on that 1960 team include Ted Tomita, Tamotsu Furukawa, Takashi Mukai, Jim Nagai, John Shigaki, Gordon Shoji and Jim Takeuchi. Some of them also played on the 1959 state championship team, whose picture also is on display.

A photo of the 1964 football team is displayed, too. Those Bulldogs won the Southern Division and played in the annual Thanksgiving Day Championship Game (better known as the Turkey Day Game) and lost a 14-13 heartbreaker to Roosevelt, a team so powerful it never trailed anyone during the regular season.

But Garfield led twice in that game, played before a packed house at Memorial Stadium, and fell just yards short of winning one of the biggest upsets in Metro League championship history. Ray Kihara, a backup quarterback for Garfield, electrified the crowd when he lined up as a halfback, took a pitchout and threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to quarterback John Richardson.

That legendary group of Bulldogs also include Stan Hiraoka, Chris Ichikawa, Martin Mano, Paul Toshi, Kuni Yamamoto, John Yasutake and Mike Yasutake. Drew Kiga was the head team manager.

A team effort

The Garfield Walls of Fame was created and is overseen by Principal Ted Howard II (who as a student at Garfield, played on the 1985 league championship basketball team and whose son Teddy played for Garfield's 2015 state champions), along with Athletic Director and Head Basketball Coach Ed Haskins, and other school staff members.

I was asked to help out as a volunteer due to my collection of Garfield memorabilia and memories that I’ve been amassing since I was a child, and also because of the stories that I had written about Garfield while working as a reporter and editor at The Seattle Times for many years.

My father, Carl Kossen, graduated from Garfield in 1927 and became an insurance agent with many Nisei customers. He also sponsored a basketball team in the NVC Community Hoop league in the 1960s that is immortalized in an old NVC Newsletter that showed that the Kossen Insurance team was in first place — for one week when it was 1-0.  (Here is the link to the story I wrote about that — "Thanks for making us No. 1!" — for the NVC Newsletter in September 2015.)

One of the perks of working on the Garfield Walls of Fame is not only learning more about Garfield’s fascinating sports history and the people who helped create it, but also getting to meet some of them and hear their stories.

Recently, I met with Louise Kashino, daughter Debbie Kashino and NVC Foundation President Bruce Inaba for a quick tour of the Walls of Fame and a photo of them with the display for Shiro Kashino. It was a moment that brought together representatives from five rival Seattle high schools: Broadway (Louise), Franklin (Debbie), Rainier Beach (Bruce) and Lincoln and Garfield (I graduated from Lincoln, but am also an honorary graduate of Garfield).

And on a cold, rainy night in January, a crowd had gathered in the Garfield gym to watch the top-ranked Bulldogs basketball team put away another opponent. At halftime, I went to the concession stand and noticed a couple of guys closely checking out the Walls of Fame in a nearby hallway.

“Are you in any of these displays?” I asked them, as I often do when I see people looking at the displays. At Garfield, you never know. The unassuming person hanging out in the hallway, sitting next to you in the stands, or just walking by might have been a record-breaking track star, a basketball hero, one of the greatest coaches of our time.

The two guys smiled at my question and said no, they weren’t up there, but said that they knew many of those pictured on the Walls of Fame. In fact, the two ran track and cross country with one of the all-time Garfield greats — Herman Atkins, Class of 1966, a state champion who became one of the top distance runners in America.

I introduced myself and got to know Steve Okamura and Danny Franco, whose memories of being on a team with such a fast and strong Bulldog are vivid and humbling. As Steve Okamura said with a laugh: “Unfortunately, I was the one bringing up the rear.”

But he was on the team. He was a Garfield Bulldog! It doesn't get much better than that. And if the displays can motivate someone to compete and play as hard as they can, regardless of the outcome, the Walls of Fame are doing their job.

Similar to the NVC Foundation Japanese American Memorial Wall, the Garfield Walls of Fame serve to honor, educate and inspire. That’s always been a winning combination.

Bill Kossen is an NVC Foundation member and a volunteer for the Garfield High School Bulldogs Walls of Fame.