By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
Rafu Sports Editor
His parents named him Yutaka. His brother and friends nicknamed him “Tabo.” His players knew him as Coach Shim.
In spite of his unwillingness to talk about himself, most knew him as a winner.
Yutaka Shimizu, the quietly dedicated basketball coach for several high schools across the Los Angeles area, died June 10 after battling lung disease. He was 84 and is survived by two daughters and a son.
“He never wanted public attention for himself,” said Shimizu’s younger brother, Ko. “Even with his family, he was very standoffish, but when he was with his players, he was an extrovert. He would horse around and joke, and he was very outgoing.”
Coach Shim was one of a handful of Japanese American coaches who became institutions in prep sports through the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. Along with the likes of Belmont’s Yosh Arima and Sue Kamiyama at Bell High, Shimizu preached a gospel of fundamental skills, sportsmanship and team cohesion that fostered harmony and winning for generations of players.
Shimizu’s longest tenure was at Hamilton High, where he first picked up the coach’s whistle in 1959 and remained through the 1981 season. He coached several standout players there, including Sydney Wicks, who went on to become an All-American at UCLA and a star in the NBA. Hamilton made it to the City Section title game in 1965.
In 1982, Shimizu took over at Kennedy High in Granada Hills, where he coached until 1999. It wasn’t until he had joined the staff at Taft in 2003 as a volunteer assistant coach that he finally tasted a championship, winning three City Section titles.
After retirement, he continued to coach as an assistant at Los Angeles Southwest Community College, Concordia University, Glendora High School and Cal State Northridge.
At a memorial service held June 22, some 70 former players and coaching colleagues recounted fond memories, revealing facts about Coach Shim that Ko Shimizu said even his family hadn’t previously known. Among them was Derrick Taylor, the head coach at St. John Bosco, who benefited from Shimizu’s assistance and guidance until just before the former coach’s death.
Calling him the most underrated high school coach of his era, Taylor said, “He was so quiet, and no one really understood how good a coach he really was.”
Shimizu’s daughter, Lori Peterson, told The Rafu Shimpo that former players coached by her father traveled from as far away as Portland and Florida to attend the memorial.
“It was very touching. They shared some wonderful stories,” she said. “You can’t talk about our dad without talking about basketball. Basketball was my dad’s life. He coached for 53 years and has become an institution in the L.A. basketball community. He has touched many people’s lives through his love of basketball. He began coaching in 1959 and continued until the very end, exactly as he would have wished.”
Shimizu, the middle son of three to Chiyeko and Otokichi Shimizu, was born in Boyle Hights and enjoyed a relatively carefree childhood until his family fell victim to the hysteria of World War II and was sent to the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming. Older brother Shigetoshi, who had been in Japan since before the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, died at age 17, while the rest of the family were imprisoned at Heart Mountain.
Throughout the rest of his life, Yutaka Shimizu preferred not to discuss his wartime internment.
After the war, Shimizu attended school in Philadelphia and in Dayton, Ohio, where a teacher at West Carrollton High School recognized the young man’s potential on the football field. The instructor recommended Shimizu for a scholarship to Bowling Green University, which he gladly accepted.
Like his older brother, Ko excelled on the football field. After playing first string at Beverly Hills High, he attended Loyola on scholarship, until both brothers were drafted and sent for two years to the conflict in Korea.
Upon returning from Korea, Yutaka rejoined his brother and family in Los Angeles, and graduated from Cal State L.A. in 1955.
Ko said even after he and his brother both married and were raising their families, Yutaka remained reserved and inward.
“Both our parents had passed, and we were the only ones left,” Ko Shimizu recalled. “Our kids would play together and we played poker from time to time. We weren’t on bad terms at all, he just kept to himself.”
According to his brother, Coach Shimizu was unwavering in keeping his distance from his players, even at times preferring to communicate through scribbled notes rather that conversing.
“He felt it was more appropriate and constructive to keep a distance between player and coach, until they graduated. After that, he loosened up and became very close to them,” Ko Shimizu explained.
In a Los Angeles Times article last year, Taylor recalled attending an All-American breakfast in Louisville, Ky. with Shimizu, when a familiar voice called out to Coach Shim. The voice was that of John Wooden.
“That’s when you know you’re the man, when the ultimate coach calls you over,” Taylor said.