By Damin Esper
Doug Kagawa has seen a lot of changes at Albany High School over the last 35 years.
"I think it's gone from a blue collar to a white collar kind of a thing," Kagawa said. "When I started Albany, there were 715 students (in grades) nine to 12. Now there's 1,200 students. It's still a small school. One class at Berkeley high school is our whole school."
The longtime teacher, counselor and coach is retiring from AHS effective Monday.
Albany High may be small compared to some schools, but Kagawa has had an effect on countless students.
"He was an excellent coach and always fair to his players," said Kevin Tannahill, who played basketball for Kagawa in the mid-1980s. "But even more important than that, he provided a blueprint for young kids growing up to follow in how to conduct themselves and how to treat people respectfully."
Kagawa retired as boys basketball coach following the 2007 season. He has also coached swimming, water polo and football at the school.
"That's what you can do when you're single," Kagawa said. "They invented the microwave."
Kagawa eventually married and had a family. His daughter Lindsay had a stellar career in volleyball at Albany and earned a scholarship to national power Stanford University. She is now a sports agent, representing some of the top women's basketball players in the world.
Both father and daughter were inducted into the Albany High School Athletics Hall of Fame in 2008.
Doug Kagawa grew up in Berkeley and was the kid who was always playing sports.
"If my parents couldn't find me they knew I was on the playground," he said.
He competed in the Japanese youth leagues of the time and said that his family was very encouraging.
"My dad had a lot to do with that," he said. "I think he would have been a coach if he hadn't been put into the camps during the war."
While playing in the Japanese league, he caught the eye of referee Spike Hensley, who also happened to be the Berkeley High School basketball coach. Hensley pestered the diminutive Kagawa to try out for the Yellowjackets.
Despite being 5-foot-7, Kagawa made the varsity and helped lead consecutive squads to the Tournament of Champions -- a postseason tournament held at the Oakland Coliseum that brought together most of the top squads in Northern California. One of his teammates was future California star and NBA player Phil Chenier.
Kagawa attended Merritt College and Cal State Hayward (now Cal State East Bay), where he earned a degree in biology and kinesiology, as well as his teaching credential. His aspiration was always to teach and coach at the high school level.
"I like security, to know where I was going to be the next day," Kagawa said. "I didn't have dreams to be a college coach. I wanted a high school career and to coach at a high school level."
He took a job as a teacher at Berkeley High and worked as an assistant for Hensley.
But following a 1976 teachers strike, Berkeley laid off several dozen teachers, including Kagawa, one of the younger people on staff.
Kagawa said he was eventually offered a position in Vallejo but decided to take one in Albany instead. He also had an opportunity to go to Turlock, where Hensley and former Berkeley principal Tom Parker had landed.
"I gambled and took the Albany job," he said. "We just settled down in the community."
Several years later, Albany let a counselor go and Kagawa was one of five teachers assigned to take over counseling duties for about 30 students each. Kagawa found he liked the work and went back to St. Mary's College and earned a master's degree in counseling.
As for the future, Kagawa, 61, said he'd like to play a little golf and travel with his wife. He also said that his parents are getting older and recently moved out of Kagawa's house and into a care facility.
Kagawa said that over the years he's seen a change in the pressures facing high school students.
"The pressure to get into college is more," he said. "The planning for college starts in junior high school. It's part of the culture. It's a high-stress environment for kids. It used to be you applied to one school and get in. Now you apply to 10 schools and cross your fingers."
He also lamented that kids today don't spend their time at playgrounds like he did.
"Drive by the playgrounds these days, you hardly ever see anybody out there just playing," Kagawa said. "Everything has to be supervised now. Club teams. I think it's gone overboard. You can't be a multiple sport player anymore. Kids are specializing earlier and earlier."