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Hawai'i's first Little League World Series champions arrived last night to an Island homecoming of homemade banners, flower and candy lei piled to their ears and the Royal Hawaiian Band playing "We Are The Champions."
About 700 friends, family and politicians including Gov. Linda Lingle, Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, Mayor Mufi Hannemann, state Sen. Will Espero, D-20th ('Ewa Beach, Waipahu), and state Rep. Kymberly Pine, R-43rd ('Ewa Beach, West Loch), greeted the boys and coaches from West O'ahu one day after they beat defending champions Curacao 7-6 in South Williamsport, Pa.
A dazed-looking Michael Memea, who hit the seventh-inning home run that won Sunday's championship game, was slapped on the back and signed autographs as he made his way out of Honolulu International Airport to two stretch limousines waiting to carry the team to a party in 'Ewa Beach.
Michael, 12, called the moment "exciting."
He wore a T-shirt that included the phrase "Work Hard! Play Hard!" on the back.
Third baseman/catcher Vonn Fe'ao proclaimed the welcome home "nuts."
"They not only made Hawai'i proud," Hannemann said, "they made our country proud."
Espero called the homecoming "a great moment for Hawai'i and 'Ewa Beach. ... 'Ewa Beach, no ka 'oi."
The mayor has scheduled a "Parade of Champions" for Labor Day, which will feature the team from West O'ahu as the grand marshals, Hannemann said. No time has been scheduled yet.
The route likely will run from the Waikiki Post Office, down Kalakaua Avenue and conclude at Sunset on the Beach, where the city will replay the two-hour championship game on its 30-foot film screen — minus commercials.
Other members of the parade will include the O'ahu All-Stars who won the Cal Ripken World Series (ages 12-under) championship in Aberdeen, Md., on Aug. 21; and the Hawai'i Warriors, who won the Continental Amateur Baseball Association (ages 9-younger) championship game Aug. 5.
But last night's welcoming was all focused on West O'ahu.
The congratulations began about 10 minutes before their flight from Los Angeles touched down in Honolulu, when the pilot and crew announced that the plane was carrying the team from West O'ahu back to the Islands.
"They said it was a privilege to be flying the world champs," said one of the coaches, Clint Tirpak, whose son, Ty, played right field.
Tirpak was prepared to let Ty miss another day of school today after last night's party.
"That's all right," Tirpak said, repeating an often-used phrase since the boys' victory on Sunday. "It's once in a lifetime."
The United flight was escorted to the gate by six fire trucks, said Russell Pang, a spokesman for Lingle.
Lingle and Aiona shook hands with the players as they emerged from the jetway, and the governor told the players "how much she enjoyed watching the game," Pang said. The governor's office is planning a reception for the team at Washington Place, Pang said.
Outside the airport terminal, West O'ahu manager Layton Aliviado hugged his father, Herbert, 67, who suffers from diabetes and sat in a wheelchair as people jostled about him.
Layton Aliviado called the greeting "awesome, awesome. Thank you. My team worked hard and they deserve this."
Over the crush of people and noise around him, Herbert Aliviado said, "I'm really proud of them."
The boys eventually made their way through the throng of fans to their waiting stretch Hummer H2 and stretch Ford Excursion that each bore signs reading, "Little League World Champions West O'ahu."
Limousine driver Jonny DeMotta considered it an honor to transport the champions.
He volunteered for the duty because "this is our kids," DeMotta said. "I do anything for the kids."
Friends, family and fans began pouring into the airport terminal's baggage area more than an hour before the team's scheduled arrival.
Carolina Lau held a trio of Tigger birthday balloons for Alaka'i Aglipay, who turned 13 on Aug. 7 while in South Williamsport.
As she stood next to Alaka'i's grandmother and her fiance — Jerry Aglipay, Alaka'i's uncle — Lau found a far simpler way to explain the reasons why each of the 13 people in their group came out to greet the team.
"Just call us family," Lau said.
Others had no connection by blood or marriage.
Frank Wilhelm, 14, used a marking pen to methodically write out the phrase " 'Ewa Beach World Champions" on a piece of cardboard to honor three of his former teammates and coach, Aliviado, from three years back.
"Coach Layton is the best coach I've ever had," said Frank, who wore his 2002 all-star T-shirt from his old team.
Jonathan Sampaga, 13, and his sister, Justine, 17, held hand-decorated cardboard signs that featured blown-up pictures of their friend, Alaka'i, in his baseball uniform.
"We're really, really proud of him," Justine said.
At the 'Ewa by Gentry Community Recreation Center, 8-year-old Radson Jang, a West O'ahu league all-star, waited for the team in his blue and white uniform with a baseball in hand for autographs.
"To me, they're heroes," Radson said. "I like the way they play. One day I want to be like them."
Jerry Tanupo Jr., one of those at the rec center, knows the West O'ahu players well. Jerry, a 12-year-old pitcher and outfielder, has been their teammate for years under coach Aliviado.
But Jerry wasn't eligible for the all-star team that went to the World Series because he lives just outside the team's geographic boundary.
"That's all right," Jerry said. "I couldn't play the all-star season but I'm happy they made it to the finals and won."
THEY'RE NO. 1
Fans decorated Fort Weaver Road with banners and signs all the way to 'Ewa Beach. Consecutive utility poles bore the names of each player.
As the team arrived, the band Kanepono played Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's "Hawaiian Sup'pa Man."
"It's appropriate because they're No. 1," said band member Billy Gomban.
Tanioka's Seafoods and Catering of Waipahu donated a spread of teri beef, fish, potato/macaroni salad, shoyu poke, fried chicken and sushi. Subway and Sam's Club also donated food and beverages.
Jamien "Boogie" Aliviado, younger brother of the coach, said of the victory, "I had tears come down my eyes, I felt so happy for my brother and the boys."
Boogie Aliviado said his brother never played baseball but got to love it when his older son, "Layton Boy," now 24, got into baseball when he was 5 years old and Layton began coaching.
"Baseball is everything to him. He likes to coach the boys," Jamien said. "When it comes to baseball, he like to win. He told me before he left, 'Brah, this the year.' Today he's the man. He's like a coach and an uncle to them. But he practice until the sun goes down."
Kiilani Guevara, the mother of pitcher/right fielder Quentin Guevara, was ecstatic to see her son finally home. Her husband, state corrections officer Stanley Guevara, went on the trip to South Williamsport and already had plans for their homecoming.
"The next thing is," Stanley said, "we've got to be a family again."