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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, July 21, 2005

Konishiki's big on giving back

By Wes Nakama
Advertiser Staff Writer


Saleva'a Atisanoe, the Nanakuli-raised former sumo champion internationally known as Konishiki, prefers to be a giver, not a fighter.

So while another former sumotori, Waimanalo's grand champion "Akebono" (Chad Rowan), is spending his days training for next week's mixed martial arts competition at Aloha Stadium, Konishiki is busy in Japan singing Hawaiian songs at concerts, running a restaurant business and hula school and giving back to his island home any way he can.

Konishiki, a former standout two-way lineman for the Pac-Five high school football team, regrets that he cannot attend Sunday's second annual reunion of former Wolfpack players. But he said he still carries with him the lessons and experiences gained from attending tiny University High and playing for longtime Pac-Five coach Don "Spud" Botelho.

"Coming from Nanakuli, it was a different experience, a great experience," Konishiki said in a phone interview from Japan Sunday night, minutes after stepping off a concert stage. "Coach Bo is a real nice guy, and he knew how to bring all the players together to play as a team. It didn't matter where we came from or what color we were — we all felt like we were part of a family."

At 6-feet, 350 pounds, Konishiki was not just a novelty on Pac-Five's football team. He started at nose guard and also played offensive tackle and impressed many with his surprising agility.

"He was a big kid but he had quick feet," Botelho said. "Because of that, we thought he would do well in sumo."

Konishiki did more than well, winning three tournaments and becoming the first foreigner to reach the rank of ozeki (champion). In the process, he became one of Japan's most famous athletes and has parlayed that popularity into several high-profile ventures since retiring from sumo in November 1997.

He started the Konishiki Kids Foundation, which has sent dozens of Leeward O'ahu children on free trips to Japan. He started his own recording label and performs Hawaiian music at concerts across Japan. He opened the Keolu Hawaiian Center, which includes a hula school and offers lessons in slack key guitar.

And he owns a restaurant business that includes Hawaiian cuisine like kalua pig, laulau and loco moco.

"He's very intelligent, and as soon as he went to Japan, he learned the language right away," Botelho said. "We're very happy for him, we're proud of what he's done. Besides having talent, he is a real good person and has given back to the community. That's the main thing."

Konishiki helped feed a football team from Hawai'i that played an exhibition game at the Tokyo Dome last week, and assisted a Hawai'i swim team that recently visited Japan.

Konishiki, former Saint Louis School and Hawai'i Pacific University athlete Benny Agbayani and former Hawai'i Islanders baseball player Bobby Valentine are helping plan a "Hawai'i Day" for Aug. 23 in conjunction with the Chiba Lotte Marines' professional baseball game that night. Agbayani is an outfielder for the Marines and Valentine is Chiba Lotte's manager.

"There are so many opportunities to promote Hawai'i here," Konishiki said. "Japan and Hawai'i will always be connected together."

As Pac-Five celebrates its 31st year on Sunday, questions about the unique program's future connections are being raised. The team is a conglomerate of several small private schools which have not had enough players to form their own team.

But Word of Life Academy, which has supplied Pac-Five with a significant number of players the past three years, will field an intermediate team for the first time this fall and reportedly has plans to eventually play a varsity schedule. Mid-Pacific Institute has had an intermediate team, but that team has included players from other schools.

"Word of Life has been the No. 1 school as far as providing personnel to Pac-Five," said Botelho, now the Interscholastic League of Honolulu's executive director. "We'll see how it goes with their program, and it could become a numbers game to maintain Pac-Five. The next couple of years will be very crucial."