Congenial Gene’s blissful return to Maui
LAHAINA – Congenial Gene Honda, a big fan of Maui, has an annual gig here most Mainland people would die for. In November last year, it was an unseasonable nine degrees in Chicago, where Gene is the public address (PA) announcer for the Blackhawks hockey team at the United Center.
With March Madness about to unfold, this seems an appropriate time to run a column written last fall that never made it into the paper.
Here for seven straight years at Thanksgiving, Gene drives through the sunshine to Lahaina Civic Center to be the public address announcer for the EA Sports Maui Invitational Basketball Tournament. He is not complaining.
Gene began hosting a radio show on the campus of the University of Illinois in Champaign, where he was enrolled in the tough School of Engineering. He switched to studying finance and joined WPGU, a student station whose call letters stood for “Parade Ground Unit” after the structure still in use in the 1960s but built during World War II to house soldiers in training.
After graduation, he joined a Chicago radio station. His first job led him to becoming the public address announcer for the Chicago White Sox and later the Blackhawks, where he has announced for 17 years.
A chance encounter led him to Maui. Kemper-Lesnik, the superb Northbrook, Illinois, sports marketing firm that promotes and runs the Maui Invitational, needed a new PA after a fellow from Honolulu dropped the role after a few years.
Gene prepares for the high-profile Maui tournament by memorizing the pronunciations of some players on eight teams, who he will be mentioning during the games.
In November, he flew to Maui on a Friday and hosted a Sunday news conference with the coaches on the Sheraton Maui lawn, as well as a free throw contest with the coaches and local students, before heading “to work” on Monday.
This year, he stayed an extra five days to soak up the sun, since the Blackhawks were out of town and he did not have to get back.
The Maui tournament, he said, “is what every college basketball team dreams of. If a school is scheduled to play, it tells recruits they will be playing in Maui.” It’s an incentive high school kids are well aware of, since they grow up watching the tournament on TV.
“Even schools like Arizona and San Diego State from warm climates love to come, not so much for the sun but for the prestige and experience of playing in Maui against top teams,” Gene said.
Gene, who is single, knows these days just where to go when he arrives. One of his first stops is Paradise Grill at the entrance to Kaanapali for a meal and Maui Brewing Co. Bikini Blond. “It’s wonderful here. It’s a long flight home, but I don’t get a lot of sympathy,” he added.
For this talented announcer, there may be only one thing better than doing the Blackhawks.
“If Maui ever got a professional, hockey team,” Gene said, he would be here in a Chicago minute to do the PA.
Columnist’s Notebook: Your columnist was the only newspaper reporter to cover the spectacular Whale Trust “all you would ever want to know about whales” talk stories last week. Watch for three reports in future columns.