WVU’s Sunahara Seeks Improvement And Also A Family Treasure
MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–Rex Sunahara has a lot of goals in life, including a successful senior season with the Mountaineer football team this year.
West Virginia’s starting long snapper last season, Sunahara was perfect with his snaps and wants to duplicate that feat this coming season as well.
Rex also hopes to track down an elusive piece of family lore – a video of his father playing high school basketball against a future U.S. president.
Reed Sunahara, who is not only Rex’s father but also WVU’s women’s volleyball coach, is one of the greatest all-around high school athletes produced by the state of Hawaii. Recently inducted into the Big Island Sports Hall of Fame, Reed was a star at Hilo High in basketball, baseball and volleyball from 1978-81, earning first-team all-state honors in each sport. He went to become a two-time All-American in volleyball at UCLA while helping the Bruins to three NCAA championships. A motorcycle accident suffered near the end of his college years resulted in a gruesome broken leg and pretty much ended the Olympic dreams of the volleyball star they called the “Flyin’ Hawaiian.” Instead he made his way into volleyball coaching, and is now preparing for his fifth season leading the Mountaineers.
Though Reed rarely regales his son with accounts of his glory days, Rex knows many of the stories, either having read about them or having heard them from other family members.
One of the tales has set Rex on a search.
“I’ve heard rumblings from my uncles that there is a basketball clip where he is playing Barack Obama,” said Rex. “I have yet to see that film, but I’m going have to find that.”
The future president, who during his teenage years was known as Barry Obama, is a 1979 graduate Punahou School in Honolulu on the island of O’ahu. Reed Sunahara was a couple years younger and is a 1981 graduate of Hilo High, which is on the island of Hawaii, otherwise known as the Big Island in the eight-island chain that make up the state.
Reed and Hilo High were seemingly on track to face off with Obama and Punahou in the 1979 state championship, but the 6-foot-4 Sunahara broke a bone in his foot in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation playoffs and didn’t make it to the state tourney. Punahou, with Obama serving as a key reserve, won the state title that season.
“He normally doesn’t talk about his stuff, because he wants to keep the focus on his team now,” Rex says of his father. “But he was pretty good. He almost was a McDonald’s All-American in basketball. He was drafted in the Major Leagues for baseball, but he decided to take the other route and won three national (volleyball) championships at UCLA.
“I wish he would talk about it more, because I would like to hear those stories. I do know I’ve got to find that tape of him playing against President Obama. I’m not sure if it’s on the Internet or if it’s a home movie. If it’s a home movie, I’ll have to start digging through the old tapes, but I’ve got to find it.”
Rex has had plenty of help in understanding what it takes to become a college athlete, and not just from his father.
“I like to think I always knew I would play a sport in college,” the 6-foot-6, 238-pound senior from Bay Village, Ohio, said. “It’s just something that’s part of my family. My dad was a great athlete. My mom Laura (Rekstis-Sunahara) played Division I volleyball (at the University of Cincinnati). My grandfather played Division I football, and my great-grandfather played Division I football. My uncles on my mom’s side played Division I football and won national championships with Coach (Jim) Tressel at Youngstown State. Pretty much everyone in my family knows about college athletics, and they make sure I keep up the work ethic that’s needed.”
The next generation of Sunaharas, including not only Rex but his younger siblings, brother R.J. and sister Mia, have picked up mantle and continued to carry it.
“My brother is down at Fairmont State getting ready to play basketball for Joe Mazzulla,” explained Rex. “He redshirted this past year, and now is looking for his chance this coming season. And my sister, who going to be a freshman in high school, is getting pretty good at volleyball, too.”
As for Rex, he’s proven to be a pretty good athlete himself. He was an honorable mention all-state basketball player at Bay High, while also earning all-conference honors as a wide receiver and defensive back in football. In addition, he lettered in baseball. He initially attended the University of Rhode Island as a freshman, playing for the Rams’ football team and also their basketball squad. But after one year at URI, he decided to transfer to West Virginia. A couple seasons later, he was handling the Mountaineers’ long snapping duties.
“The first game last year was nerve-wracking,” admitted Sunahara of his initial chance to serve as WVU’s main snapper. “After that first one, most of the nerves went away. You always have a few butterflies, but that’s good, because it means you care.
“We’re continuing to work hard this spring,” he added. “As a special teams unit, we still have plenty to do, but hopefully we get everything squared away, and we’re ready to go on Sept. 1.”