Anuenue - Real Hawaiian Football
Tucked away deep in quiet Palolo valley, only a stone's throw from the Palolo Chinese Home, is a small Hawaiian language immersion school, Ke Kula Kaiapuni O Anuenue.
A few years ago, some of the male students asked counselor and now head coach, Tim Kealohamakua Wengler, my nephew, to pursue the possibility of playing football in the OIA (Oahu Interscholastic Association. Anuenue was accepted and fielded a JV team in 2005 and senior varsity teams since 2006. In 2007, Kealoha called me and said that the team's week-long football camp was coming up and asked if I would be able to spend some time with them, about three to four hours every evening, from after dinner to bedtime. He told me that he really wanted them to be more than a football team that spoke a different language. He wanted this to be a Hawaiian football team that learned and practiced their culture. I agreed but really had no idea as to what I would do.
Only a few hours before my first evening with the team, I still had no idea as to where this would go. There were many things I could teach them but where do I start and with what specifically? I sat quietly and asked for direction and inspiration. The answer came quite clearly. I was to teach them a very old dance, Ku'i Moloka'i, that I had previously taught only to lua participants (practitioners). This vigorous male dance is hundreds of years old and actually originated on the field of athletic competition. Since then the team does this dance before every game - instead of singing their alma mater.
Allow me to digress a little and tell you about the team. At Anuenue, there are about 100 students in grades 9 to 12, and 65% are female. Most of the boys have to play both offense and defense, and they must learn various positions, as they may be switched around during the game. The practice field is a little grassy area on campus. The team doesn't have a locker room nor equipment or the athletic facilities like other school teams. What they have however, is closeness, heart, dedicated coaches and administration, and supportive parents and schoolmates. Because of football, and I would venture to say that includes the way the boys play the game -- their grades and attendance have improved and now some of these boys are playing football while furthering their education at mainland colleges. Without this experience, those students would have had no choice but enter our local work force, already suffering because of our struggling economy.
Last year, Kealoha asked me about closing the season with a pani. This cultural tradition includes ceremonial foods, 'awa and an opportunity to speak about the season. Invited are those who have contributed to the program, volunteers, sportswriters, doctors, tutors, and other support throughout the season. This provides a kind of traditional way of closing, rather than just an abrupt ending. During this last pani, I reminded the boys of a Hawaiian value that we stress throughout the season -- in the Hawaiian way of looking at things, it's not so much whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game that's important, and that they would do well to carry this value with them for the rest of their lives.
Special report for Pacific Network, by Laakea Suganuma, Olohe Lua Aiwaiwa.
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