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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, August 30, 2002

Kapolei football team fosters community unity

By Will Hoover
Advertiser Leeward O'ahu Writer

Kapolei football coach Darren Hernandez watches his team lose to powerful Wai'anae in its first game. The Kapolei team is playing varsity football for the first time without any seniors on the squad.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

In many ways, the burgeoning community of Kapolei is a perfect reflection of its first-ever varsity football team.

The town has a brand-new library but no books. The team has brand-new uniforms but hasn't played a regular-season game.

The town has very few seniors. The team, playing at a school that didn't exist before July 2000, has no seniors. Neither does the school.

The community has no upscale restaurant although Zippy's serves as both a place for meals and as a community gathering place. The team has no alumni, but when it played its first game, a preseason contest in Wai'anae against the Seariders, hundreds of Kapolei students, parents and fans jammed the visiting team's bleachers.

For a place in search of an identity with almost no history, the Kapolei Hurricanes and its young bunch of hungry players are the future.

"With all the latest talk being about a community library without books, I think Kapolei needs something like the high school football team," said Kioni Dudley, the neighborhood board vice chairman who represents Kapolei and nearby Makakilo and Honokai Hale. "Yeah, the players are young, but the community will watch the team as it grows and gets more successful."

Dudley said the community is already a strong support base for the area schools, with Kapolei High T-shirts and other school apparel regularly seen around the local shopping centers.

"More people are looking for something to pull together on," he said. "Football is also tied to homecoming, which is a community tradition. So it's the start of a new tradition."

Like the fast-growing "Second City" it represents, Kapolei High and its new varsity team are already outgrowing facilities. The team can't have pep rallies because it doesn't have a place to hold all 1,350 students.

Fans cheer during the Kapolei football team’s first game despite being shut out, 28-0, by long time state powerhouse Wai‘anae.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

Nor does the school have a football field, gymnasium or locker room. Instead, the Hurricanes practice on the baseball diamond. Before the Wai'anae game, the team suited up in a school parking lot next to two Matson containers loaded with football gear.

It doesn't phase anyone on the team, who are just psyched to become the first O'ahu Interscholastic Association team to make a varsity debut in 27 years.

And it doesn't matter one bit that, like the town, the team is composed of newcomers all coming together for the first time.

Take the largest player on the team, sophomore Darin Awong, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 350.

Before December, his family lived in Ma'ili. Last year he played for Wai'anae.

"This is Hurricane season," Awong said before taking the field against his former teammates, who, he hastened to add, "won't survive this Hurricane."

Coach Darren Hernandez, who weighs 290 pounds, speaks softly and emphasizes respect. He mentions the word virtually every time he speaks to his players — respect for the individuals on the other team, respect for property, respect for each other.

Whatever heritage the community is building, Hernandez expects honor and integrity to be part of the mix.

He doesn't mince words, either. During halftime at Wai'anae's Raymond Torii Field, with Kapolei losing 13-0, he admonished his team for "giving away" the game.

Kapolei tidbits

• Kapolei is the fastest growing community in the state.
• The population of Kapolei is just over 25,000 (including Makakilo, Kalaeloa or Barbers Point, Villages of Kapolei North and South and Honokai Hale), according to the latest State of Hawai'i Data Book, based on the 2000 Census.
• Kapolei High School opened three summers ago with a student body of 375 freshmen.
• Because Kapolei High School has no football field, it will play its home games in Pearl City.
• But when the team meets Nanakuli on Sept. 7, the game will be played on the Nanakuli field. Technically, Kapolei will be the home team and Nanakuli the visitors.
• Kapolei City has no cemetery.
• Makakilo is the only part of Kapolei with churches, although several other congregations hold services in Kapolei schools.
• Kapolei has no night clubs or lounges, and Chili's Grill & Bar is the only establishment in Kapolei that serves alcoholic beverages.
• Kapolei's 52,000-square foot police station is second in size to the main Honolulu police station on Beretania Street.
• Kapolei has no community center, but in a pinch Zippy's Restaurant — which some residents here refer to as "the office" — will do.
• The Kapolei Theatre was the first 16-screen movie house in the state.

It turns out that the home team — one of the toughest in the state, with community traditions and roots dating back to ancient times — had come with every intention of surviving Hurricane season.

"I'm disappointed," Hernandez said bluntly, as his players stared silently at the ground. "I'm hurt. And I'll tell you another thing — right now we are a team that has no heart."

However, Kapolei fans seemed undaunted during the second half.

"We've got spirit, yes we do!" one large faction shouted spontaneously from the stands to the opposing fans and team. "We've got spirit — how 'bout you?"

Security guard John Abreu, a Kapolei resident for less than six months, said, "These kids have got potential. Kapolei is an up-and-coming community."

Darin Awong Sr., an adult corrections officer at the state prison, watched his son and teammates struggling against the far more experienced Wai'anae team. But he sees hope in the fact that Kapolei is molding a diverse community, with residents moving in from all parts of O'ahu.

In the 10 years the community has existed, nothing has proved to be a rallying point for the thousands of residents who have flocked to the acres of new homes in the cane fields of the Leeward Coast. Maybe this is it.

Awong said after the University of Hawai'i-West O'ahu campus is built, residents will be arriving in Kapolei from all over the world.

"It's harder to mold guys from different places — with different personalities, backgrounds and cultures — into a team," he said.

"But the end result is better."

Ron Romero, an insurance salesman who has lived in Kapolei for two years, said: "This team is important to the community. It will be a good team. They just need some time.

"If they could just score a touchdown it would mean a lot."

But it wasn't meant to be. The Hurricanes didn't score a point. The game ended at 28-0. Lessons learned, however, include the ability to accept loss along with victory, said Kapolei High School principal Al Nagasako.

"They learned not to be so cocky," he said after the game. "They came home with their tails between their legs."

Back at the Kapolei school parking lot and the Matson containers, beneath the light of a full moon, coach Hernandez was more reassuring than he had been at halftime. He reminded his defeated players that the Wai'anae contest had been a preseason game and the important thing now was to work on correcting mistakes and to focus on the next game.

When you don't have much in the way of tradition, it's easier to keep what you do have intact.

Win or lose, the fans say they will be back. Tomorrow night, the team plays its regular season opener at Waialua against the Bulldogs.

"This is only the beginning," said Lynn Pieper-English, mother of identical twins and Hurricane players Bronson and Brandon Pieper. "This is going to be great. This team is going to pump life into Kapolei."

Staff writer Scott Ishikawa contributed to this report