An era in Southern California sports came to a close March 26, with the passing of longtime youth coach Bob Kodama. He was 82.
Born July 3, 1931, in Seattle, Kodama and his wife, Sharon, raised five children in the West San Fernando Valley and were deeply involved in local athletics.
From 1971 to 2011, Kodama coached youth sports – mostly baseball and basketball but also helped with soccer teams – including 30 years in the West Hills Pony League Baseball program. The diamond at West Hills was named in honor of their revered coach.
Kodama also coached at the Woodland Hills Recreation Center (Shoup Park), Lanark Recreation Center, Canoga Park Little League, West Valley Basketball, American Youth Soccer Organization (Region 29 Winnetka), San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center and in the Maccabi Games.
During this time period, his teams won over 30 championships and more importantly, he used sports to teach life lessons and created a positive influence on the lives of many young people in the San Fernando Valley.
Some of Kodama’s former players went on to play in Major League Baseball. Others played for colleges such as Stanford, UC Berkeley, UCLA, Cal State Northridge, LMU, Arizona, Michigan and UC San Diego, among others.
Three of his boys have gone on to become local high school soccer coaches. Michael is coaching at Burroughs, Matt is coaching at Taft and Robert is coaching at Crespi.
Lee Goldman, who coached with and against Kodama, said, “Bob and I had a healthy respect for each other’s ability to coach and evaluate players. He was a master at drafting a team.”
Paul Gugler was Kodama’s longtime assistant coach at West Hills and said, “Bob could teach. He was so good at not only teaching the boys about baseball, but turning them into life lessons that made them better players and better people.”
The West Hills Baseball website posted a tribute to Kodama, saying, “For over 30 years, Bob personified everything any parent could dream of in a coach and mentor, and exemplified all we strive for at our league. Still indebted to his service and the example he set, our Bronco field was named in his honor.
“Bob coached generations of players, including those from his family, and contributed so much to the lives of so many children and families in our community. He made us all the better for knowing him and spending time with him. He will be dearly missed but never forgotten.”
In remembrance of Kodama, all the games at West Hills over the weekend of March 29-30 were begun with a moment of silence, and the flag will fly at half-staff for the remainder of the season. Those who knew Kodama and want to leave a tribute to him are invited to place a flower or note on the fence of the Bronco field.
Services were held at Crespi High School on Tuesday.