Photo: Hawai’i Athletics
By Bobby Curran
Charlie Wade is well known to most UH sports fans. After serving for 11 years on Dave Shoji’s staff with Rainbow Wahine volleyball, and a head coaching stint with the Pacific women’s team, and now well into a very successful run as the head coach of the Rainbow Warrior volleyball program, you might think that coaching volleyball was in his DNA since he was a young boy. But growing up in Warsaw, Indiana, there wasn’t a lot of volleyball being played. Though it would be fair to say the coaching bug may have been caught back then.
“I was on a really good youth baseball team coached by a man named Larry Long who was an exceptional man and a terrific coach,” said Wade. “He was demanding, but always encouraging. You worked hard, but he always found a way to make it fun.”
As a senior in high school, Wade had been accepted into Indiana University in Bloomington, and planned to attend the following September. In the winter of that senior year, he and a buddy made the bold decision to completely change gears and move to California. Shortly after arriving, Wade started to play volleyball on the beach and quickly fell in love with the sport. And he was in Redondo Beach, where he’d been born, and lived the first few months of his life before the family moved to Indiana. “Of course, I was so young that I had no recollection of that, but it did kind of have a full circle feel to it,” said Wade.
Wade began to help out with a club team, Club Ichiban. He started to date a woman who was hired as the JV coach at St. Joseph’s HS and became her assistant. He was already developing a reputation as having the ability to improve players quickly with on court training. The following year he was chosen to coach the JV over the now ex-girlfriend, as well as assist with the varsity. Wade realized that sooner or later he would have to get a degree. So he enrolled at Long Beach City College. He took a look at the team and realized he wasn’t good enough to make it, so another year went by, playing a lot on the beach, and then he tried out and made the team. He satisfied the coaching urge by opening, with a partner, the Magnum volleyball club.
By now, the coaching hook was thoroughly set. He even managed to talk himself into an assistant coaching gig at Cal State Fullerton. When Cerritos HS, needed coaches for their six teams, boys and girls fr/so, JV and varsity, Wade interviewed and convinced the AD that he could coach all six teams! Crazy! And to prove that was no fluke, he moved to Santa Fe Springs HS and did the exact same thing. All six teams! Talk about a workday.
Wade also knew he couldn’t get a college head coaching job without a degree, so he took a heavier load at CSF, and graduated in 1991 with a kinesiology degree. Meanwhile, the Magnum Volleyball club had really grown at a time when the club scene was supplanting the school teams for primacy. Magnum had their own warehouse space with four courts, offices, a weight room and talented young players galore. Wade would get to know a ton of college coaches, but in August 1995 he was surprised when UH coach Dave Shoji invited him out to dinner.
“He offered a one-year deal as a casual hire assistant with the idea of focusing on training and player improvement,” said Wade. That one year turned into three, and when top assistant Howard Wallace got the Creighton job, Wade became the top assistant. That continued the high level that Shoji had established. During their 11 years together, they went 160-1 in conference play. Unsurprisingly, there was increasing interest in Wade as a head coach. “I mostly turned down what came because they weren’t jobs as good as the one I had,” said Wade. But when Pacific offered him after the 2005 season, it had some advantages. It had been until recently a powerhouse program, he had a strong relationship with the AD, and felt he could get good players there. By this time, he had married the former UW volleyball player and Kaiser High grad Tani Martin, and they had already had their first child, Makana. Although the situation was good in Stockton, it wasn’t Hawaii, where they both wanted to live. Wade resigned following the 2009 season, and was hired several months later as the next head coach for the Rainbow Warriors.
“This was the destination job,” said Wade. “This was the situation that was perfect for our family, and for me professionally.” The first order of business was to establish a culture of excellence on court and in the classroom. “It took a few years to get the talent level where it needed to be,” Wade said. “We had good players, but not enough of them.”
That really changed with the class of 2015, with Joe Worsley and Stijn Van Tilburg. Those two were so exceptional as players, workers and committed teammates that the cultural transformation was complete. In 2019, UH went 28-3, losing in the national championship to LBSU. Last year, they were headed to another sensational season, and were 15-1 when play was stopped due to the pandemic.
All players had the option of reclaiming their year for the 2021 season, and UH’s three All Americans – Pat Gasman, Rado Parapunov and Colton Cowell – have done just that. How good can this group be? “We’ll be right there,” said Wade. “There are four teams at the top: BYU, UCSB, Lewis and us. All four have every starter back.”
For Charlie Wade, the lessons he has imparted are now echoed by his players. I was on a discussion panel with Colton Cowell. He is a star now, but couldn’t get on the court his first three years. I asked him how tough that was. He said, “If you want to play, play better. If you want to play better, work harder.” Now that is the culture! The only thing missing is the national championship trophy in the trophy case. And that could happen in the spring of 2021. And the Wade family now has Kanoa and Kekoa joining Makana – a whole team at home ready to enjoy the success!