If you told Scott Oikawa he would still be in the dugout today when he started coaching Lethbridge American Legion baseball in 1988, he would not believe you.
Oikawa has been the head coach of the Lethbridge American Legion Elks since 1995, but has been coaching in the program since 1988. When he first took on the job, he did not expect to have to still have the reigns nearly 30 years later. Oikawa credits his career path as a teacher as a main reason he is still coaching today.
“it’s the type of job without a great deal of stability and you don’t know what’s going to happen. Fortunately, going into teaching I was able to continue coaching for this long.”
Oikawa is one of the longest serving head coaches in the state of Montana, which Lethbridge competes in. Alongside assistant coach Jim Kotkas, the duo has been in the Elks dugout for nearly three quarters of the teams existence with the American Legion being founded in Lethbridge in 1981.
The Elks have seen plenty of success on the field under Oikawa’s watch, with the Elks winning 2 state titles in 1999 and 2004. The Elks were runner-up in the state tournament in 2018 and third place in 2019, the most recent season the Elks have been able to compete in. Oikawa says coaching for him is not always about the team’s on-field success but about seeing players become better people
“There is the state titles and the success on the field. You see those players get better, find success, become better people and better players and that’s where the reward is for me.”
Many alumni hold their time in the Lethbridge American Legion program in high regard. Zach Trempner is a forward with the Castleton University men’s hockey program in Castleton, Vermont. Trempner was a multi-sport athlete and played for two seasons with the Elks in the summers of 2018 and 2019. He says Oikawa struck the perfect balance as a coach.
“He didn’t really have to be too much of a dictator or too much of a player’s coach. He had that medium ground where he was able to goof around with the players but when it was game time, he was serious.”
THE FUNGO GAME
One of Oikawa’s pre-game rituals with the Elks is the “fungo game”. The fungo game involves Oikawa hitting ground balls at the infielders and doing whatever he can to get the baseball past them, including using the fence line or any other obstacle. Kale Penner played for the Elks from 2015-2017. He says Oikawa is in a class of his own with the fungo in hand.
“There’s no greater person with a fungo in his hand and that’s the stone cold truth. The guy is obviously a killer [in fungo game] and practices the fungo game at home I’m sure. His fence probably looks terrible.”
Penner added that Oikawa elevates his abilities when the fungo game is on.
“You’ll never see someone as excited and fired up to be at the baseball field then Coach O during the fungo game.”
Oikawa says the competitive nature of a lot of players and coaches in the Legion program is what has made the fungo game what it is today.
“I think everyone in this program is fairly competitive whether it is players or coaches and it often comes out in our pre-game rituals.”
Oikawa adds his experience definitely plays a role when it comes to the fungo game.
“Maybe with my longstanding basis with my fungo, I might have a few advantages and know some of the parks and some of the nuances of those parks.”