‘Kaji’ had one last Classic, but time caught up to him today

Bill Kajikawa passed away today.  What a strange bit of irony.

The annual prestigious softball tournament at Arizona State that bears his name wrapped up yesterday.  And this morning “Kaji” closed out a long life full of accomplishments.

The Kajikawa Classic opens the season for some of the nation’s best teams each year on a diamond named … you guessed it, Kajikawa Field.  And the Sun Devils played in a fashion that would have made Kaji proud, finishing their opening weekend of the 2010 season with some impressive play and a 5-1 record.

So who was this man who lived to be 97, but was never forgotten?

The legendary former football, basketball,  and baseball coach began his coaching career at ASU in 1937 and finally retired in 1978.  He began coaching when the school was still called the Arizona State Teachers College, directing the football program.

Before retiring in 1978, Kajikawa had served as the freshman coach under nine different head coaches.  He was also the basketball coach from 1948 to 1957 and the baseball coach from 1947 to 1957.

During WWII, Kaji took a break from his duties at ASU to serve in the U.S. Army’s 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which was manned entirely by Japanese Americans and became the Army’s most decorated combat unit.  Kaji was a leader on the battle field just as he was on the field of athletics.

He also put in countless hours in community service, earning the American Legion’s Americanism Award for service to young people, among others.

He was given the title of professor emeritus of physical education and had an additional recent link to ASU.  His daughter, Dr. Christine K. Wilkinson, served as the Interim Director of Athletics at ASU from 1995-1996 and again in 2000.

The football practice field/softball field was named for him in a 1995 ceremony.

So now you know how ASU’s softball tournament got that funny name.  It was to honor a man that devoted an entire lifetime to one school.