Earl Veloria first played basketball for BYU-Hawaii when the university was known as the Church College of Hawaii in the early 1960s. Veloria was born in 1939 on the southeast side of the Big Island of Puna.
He was the fourth oldest of 10 brothers and sisters. His father was a Filipino immigrant who came to Hawaii to work for the sugar cane plantations.
“Plantation life was a simple life. We were poor then,” Veloria remembered. “Our mother would stay home and father would provide for the family.” Veloria said their life growing up was humble and simple. He grew up knowing how to work, and eventually his work ethic, along with his skills on the basketball court, carried him through high school.
While at high school, coaches began to take notice of Veloria’s athleticism. This led to an opportunity to play basketball while being able to pay for college. “When I graduated from Pahoa High, I was offered a basketball scholarship after graduating in 1957.” Veloria then went to UH Hilo for a year on a basketball scholarship, which covered $200 for the year.
Veloria said he was first introduced to the LDS Church through his passion for basketball. “The stake president would take me to the Mutual Improvement Association to play. He would invite me to sacrament and I would go.”
While he was acquainted with the church through high school, shortly after his time at UH Hilo, he decided to attend Church College of Hawaii in 1959. During his secondsemester there, Veloria was baptized at Clissold’s Beach, named after President Edward L. Clissold, a former stake and temple president in Laie, originally from Utah. “He was a respected man in the church – not only in Salt Lake, but also in Hawaii,” Veloria said.
“I was interested in the church already. I went there to play basketball to be among members,” Veloria continued. There were a couple of members, Sister Myers from Arizona and Sister Gladys Chu ,who resides in Laie, whom he had met at church in Hilo. “We became acquainted and become good friends; and we still are,” he said. Years later, Veloria and Myers would still communicate with each other. “These two sisters were stalwart members of the church.”
“I made a lot of friends through sports,” Veloria said. “At the time , it was just limited to wrestling and basketball. The athletic director, Al Lolotai, was a professional wrestler. He turned the Samoans and Tongans who came to CCH into outstanding wrestlers.” Veloria left CCH without finishing, but later returned in 1966 when the school had a volleyball program. By that time, CCH also had a rugby program. He said since there was no recognized governing board on a national level for rugby, CCH’s rugby team, which had beaten UCLA in 1968, couldn’t have won a national title. “They proclaimed themselves national champions because there was no organized national governing body over rugby,” Veloria said. CCH’s sports and Athletics program was successful because of the variety of students the university attracted, he said.
Despite being a small school, Veloria said CCH could play with the best of the best. “We recognized that we only had seven men on our volleyball team,” he recalled, “We played teams that were dominant in the game: UCLA, Long Beach, and others. We beat all of them. We thought we did pretty good.” Carl McGown was the men’s volleyball coach at the time. He led CCH’s volleyball team to two national championship titles.
“A CCH team couldn’t play against a big school, but because it wasn’t organized as such, we competed against those bigger schools and we won those games,” Veloria said. The CCH volleyball team won in 1968 against 12 college teams. “We played for four days. It was double elimination. If you lost two games, you’re out. We lost our first game.”
The first-place team, California Sea College, placed CCH in the loser’s bracket. “CCH had been beat by California Sea College two sets straight. The rules were a little different then. You played hour after hour from 9 in the morning to 9 at night,” he said. “You had to be pretty athletic to compete at that level.”
At the end of tournament, it was San Diego vs. CCH. It was sudden death. San Diego beat CCH, 15-12. “I thought that was amazing because that was a national title we were playing for under the United Volleyball Association,” Veloria said.
Because of his strong performance during the volleyball tournament in California, Veloria was selected to become an All-American; an award given to the best players in the nation. The first All-American team can only have six people. There were five others recognized with him.
He was then nominated to play for the U.S. Olympic Volleyball Team in 1968 but decided not to pursue the opportunity. “In the past, the volleyball national championship was held in May, and then the Olympics were held in June. You couldn’t put a team together in two months and expect a polished team. They only had two months to get ready,” Veloria said.
He said because of the quick turnaround for volleyball players, he felt the U.S. Olympic Volleyball team wouldn’t be as ready as the other teams who would have played together for longer. “They couldn’t get the chemistry of the team right. They got the best players from each college team, but the chemistry between the players wasn’t there because each of the players felt they were the best,” Veloria said.
Veloria returned to CCH and graduated in 1969. “One thing about Athletics is that you form a lasting and forever tie with people. Even if you haven’t seen them for years, somehow they pop up. You form these ties and you have good memories with these people. In any sport you form a tie.”
Veloria had coached high school basketball, for 20 years. “You never forget your association with athletes because there’s a bond there,” he said.
One of his greatest associations through the sport was when he met his wife of nearly 50 years, Audrey, at CCH. She played volleyball and was skilled, but she said she “didn’t have the guts” to play professionally. It was through the sport that the two met. “I am glad that he went to CCH when he did, because I was able reap the blessing of meeting him,” she said.
“He came through the ranks of high school in a very rural area. He played basketball but didn’t really blossom until he got to CCH,” Audrey Veloria said.
She added the volleyball and basketball boys were good because of the bond they shared. “They were driven for the love of the sport, but they also had a bond. They had a sense of playing for the school and using it as a way to burn off the steam of being students.
“Many of them were non-members who were converted because of their friends who played with them. This was the career, the athletic venue that he wanted to pursue,” she said.
As the two got to know each other, their relationship bloomed. “I marveled watching him. He was a humble player and he was handsome. He included me with the boys so we went through our college years,” she said. Audrey would follow Earl around to his games in a beat up old Volkswagen Beetle. Audrey noted how much effort Earl put into his training by running around Laie to keep in shape. He said community members would encourage him to keep going.
Audrey said, “It wasn’t a vanity as much as a joy in his accomplishments. I’m always very proud of him because of that. You can’t succeed without the hunger to excel. Hawaiians have this thing called kina’ole, doing the right thing at the right time, and that was Earl’s creed,” she said.
“Earl never thought he would go to CCH, become a member, then become bishop, a stake president and then become the first Hawaiian temple president,” Audrey said. Years after his time at CCH, Earl became the president of the Kona Hawaii Temple, the first Hawaiian temple president.
Earl Veloria said he learned many things during his time at CCH. “Integrity and commitment is important. People will always remember you for how you did things. You can do 10 or more good things, and one bad thing, and people will remember you for that one bad thing,” he said.
“Be true to yourself. The way you live your life – the way you feel your life should be lived. People can see right through you. Life is prone to have failures. Yet some people see failures as a stepping stone. I’ve had a lot of failures. There are things in my life I could’ve done better. That goes for sports as well. I always analyze things I could’ve done better, ‘Why did I do what I did?’ and, ‘Why did the outcome come as it did?’ and eventually you’ll become a winner,” said Veloria.