Opinion: For most of his 40 years with the club, he was the beating heart of the Lions, the CFL team’s conscience and institutional memory, the gatekeeper of its secrets.The first callback came from Brent Johnson.This is what he said about Kato:“He wasn’t a player but he was the only guy allowed inside that sacred place in the locker-room. After the coaches and the media left, he was the guy you could talk to. When you think about all the personalities that walked through that door, that’s something. There was a huge trust there.”Next up was Wally Buono.“The franchise knew how important he was. Anyone who’s come to the organization knows the two guys who’ve always symbolized the B.C. Lions in service and loyalty were Kato and (trainer) Billy Reichelt.”
B.C. Lions trainers Brian Hamilton and Ken ‘Kato’ Kasuya pose for the camera in the team’s locker room in 1996.
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Then there was Angus Reid.“He was the connecting point for everyone in the organization. (Professional football) is a paranoid existence. Everyone is worried about getting cut or traded, and his office was a sanctuary in the chaos. You can always sneak into Kato’s office for release and some laughs. For a few minutes you could forget all the stress and let his presence calm you.”Zen Kato.And that’s the way the afternoon went. Calls were put out. In due time they came back because these men wanted to talk about Kato — talk about what he meant to them, their careers and their time with the Lions.He’s gone now, dead at 53 which is far too young. But for most of his 40 years with the club, he was the beating heart of the Lions, the CFL team’s conscience and institutional memory, the gatekeeper of its secrets.
Pictured is offensive lineman Rob Murphy, left, clowning around with equipment manager Kato Kasuya in 2007.
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He was listed as the team’s equipment manager. His driver’s licence said he was Ken Kasuya. But that job title and that name were largely irrelevant. He was the team’s counsellor, its sports psychologist, its mediator, the vice-president in charge of getting things done.Mostly, he was Kato and he was loved.“Every year he had 50 kids to look after and 50 kids who wanted something different,” said Paul McCallum. “I always wondered how he could remember it all and keep everything straight. He was amazing.”“When former players came back they came back to see Kato,” said Travis Lulay. “He was the constant. Kato transcended time.”The recently retired quarterback does not exaggerate. An East Van kid, Kato first joined the Lions in 1980 as a 13-year-old volunteer ball boy. He and Ed Georgica would ride their bikes to Empire Stadium, then off to whatever grass field the Lions were using that day. He didn’t get paid much, about $100 a month at the beginning.But it was and always would be his dream job.
Ken ‘Kato’ Kasuya, who started working with the B.C. Lions when he was 13 and never left the CFL team, died Wednesday at the age of 53. Heartbroken players, coaches and friends gathered in Surrey Wednesday to share stories about the loyal equipment manager who they called a true Lion legend.
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Postmedia News Files
He was named the equipment manager in 1996. He has five Grey Cup rings. He was inducted with Reichelt into the Lions’ Wall of Fame in 2015. He was there when B.C. Place Stadium was packed. He was there when the Lions went into bankruptcy. He was there for the Hall of Famers and the franchise icons. He was there for the scrubs and the thousands who never made it out of training camp.But he was always there.“He basically learned on the job from Creighton (O’Malley, the Lions’ former equipment manager and Kato’s mentor),” said Reichelt. “He took it all in and learned it all. It was like he was born to the job.“In the summers I spent more time with Kato then I did with my family. In this business you’re together all the time. Obviously we’ve gone thorough a whole bunch of different things.”Those things included a couple of health issues that slowed Kato down but could never stop him. The Lions were his life and if he had few interests outside the locker-room, that didn’t seem to bother him.“If you asked him if he’d do it again he’d say yes,” Reid answered when asked if Kato led a lonely life. “That’s where he felt most comfortable in his little corner of the world. He forged friendships and memories anybody would be envious of. Anybody.”And that’s what came back in waves Wednesday, all those friends, all those memories. Reid said Kato first outfitted him with shoulder pads when he was playing high school ball with Vancouver City College. That’s because Reid’s brother Mark had played with the Lions and that made him part of Kato’s family.
B.C. Lions equipment manager Ken ‘Kato’ Kasuya and assistant Brian ‘Red’ Hamilton in 1998.
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CFL equipment managers also have to have a little MacGyver in them, the ability to invent and improvise some piece of armour out of nothing. That was Kato.“You give him duct tape, pliers, and some gum and most things are going to get done,” said Johnson.But it was in the locker-room where Kato’s skills had their greatest impact. He was generally the first point of contact for anyone joining the Lions and the person who spent the most time with the players. That came with a fearsome responsibility but the kid from East Van, who never went past high school, knew how to keep peace and harmony in his kingdom.Lulay felt it was his responsibility as the quarterback and a team leader to know what was going on in the locker-room. He quickly learned Kato was the only pipeline that mattered. It was the same with Buono but Kato operated on a need-to-know basis which is how he maintained the trust of the players.“He was a perceptive guy,” said Lulay.On Wednesday, Lulay planned to visit the Lions’ facility to catch up with Kato when he heard the news of his friend’s passing. Downhearted, he headed to Surrey anyway just to talk to anyone who was there, anyone who knew Kato, anyone who was part of his journey.“I’m glad I went,” Lulay said. “You get a little peace talking about it.”On this sad day he wasn’t the only one who felt that way.Ewilles@postmedia.comTwitter.com/willesonsportsCLICK HERE to report a typo.Is there more to this story? We’d like to hear from you about this or any other stories you think we should know about. Email firstname.lastname@example.org