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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Mississippi school a haven for former Hawai'i athletes

By Leila Wai
Advertiser Staff Writer

Southern hospitality, meet the aloha spirit.

With five recent graduates of Hawai'i high schools joining athletic teams at Alcorn State in Mississippi, there is an infusion of the Islands into the 3,000-plus student population.

Former Saint Louis School running back B.J. Batts, offensive lineman Bronson Carvalho and defensive lineman Oren Long have been in Claiborne County, Miss., preparing for the football season. However, Batt and Carvalho will likely redshirt this year.

Joining them are Kahuku All-State basketball player Latoya Wily and baseball player Michael Heu of Kaiser.

"Everybody down here is really nice," said Batts, who was selected as the Advertiser's All-State Offensive Player of the Year as a junior. "They included us with open arms; they didn't discriminate or nothing.

"The people are the same (as Hawai'i), everyone says 'hi' to each other."

"Everybody was nice," Carvalho said. "The teachers, the faculty, the coach, the president. It was very warm."

Alcorn State, founded in 1871, was the nation's first state-supported institution for the higher education of African Americans, according to the school's Web site.

But attending a school that is 97 percent black, according to the Historically Black College and Universities Web site, is not the biggest adjustment they had to make.

"When I talk to people up here, their accent is hard to pick up," Carvalho said. "And they say I talk fast. I can't have a good conversation without saying, 'Excuse me, What did you say?'

"I didn't want to talk because I didn't want to have to keep repeating myself, and they had to keep repeating, too."

Former Saint Louis All-State running back B.J. Batts said the people in Clairbone County, Miss., "included us with open arms."

Advertiser library photo

Carvalho, who is 6 feet 2 and 290 pounds, has been in Mississippi since June 30. Batts joined him July 5. Both have been attending summer school and working out with the team.

Long, who is 6-3 and 240, arrived Thursday for fall camp, which began Monday.

"I'll take care of Oren, I'll show him around," said Carvalho, who has been best friends and teammates with Long since the ninth grade.

"They kind of set it for me; they had everything ready," Long said.

In the few days since Long has been in Mississippi, he has already embraced the culture.

"It's just like at home," he said. "It's a pretty easy-going atmosphere."

Batts said arriving a month before camp was good because it allowed him to meet his teammates and other people around campus.

It also allowed him to adjust to the differences from Hawai'i.

"It's very rural ... Hawai'i is a city ... it's more country," said Batts, who is 5-7 and 175. "The school is in the middle of nowhere, all you can really do is study and play football."

Claiborne County is located seven miles west of Lorman, 17 miles southwest of Port Gibson, and about halfway between Vicksburg to the north and Natchez to the south.

But to Wily, all that mattered was that there was a Mormon Church about 30 minutes from campus.

"It's similar to the drive from La'ie to Kane'ohe," she said.

Wily said she chose to go to Alcorn State because she wanted to play for a Division I school, and wasn't receiving a lot of offers. (Alcorn State competes in Division I in women's basketball and baseball, but Division I-AA in football).

She said she doesn't plan on sparking the rivalry between the Saint Louis and Kahuku, perennial powers in Hawai'i football.

"I don't know them," Wily said of Batts, Carvalho and Long. "I've seen them play football, but I don't really know them."

Batts said part of the appeal of going to Alcorn State was that his teammates from Saint Louis were going to be joining him.

"When they first called, it was like, 'If you go, I'll go,' " said Batts, who said he misses his girlfriend, Jessica Watanabe. "It helps a lot. If I came down here by myself, I don't think I would have come."

Carvalho, who is dorming with Long this year, said his main reason for going to Alcorn State is because he wanted to attend a Mainland college.

"I wanted to get off the rock," said Carvalho, who is from Kaua'i and stayed at his aunty's and grandmother's houses when he was attending Saint Louis. "I can always come back home if worse comes to worse. I just see it as a new opportunity."

Reach Leila Wai at lwai@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2457.