By Lee Cataluna
The talk has blown around them like a red Lana'i dust cloud, but the girls have stood firm.
Their friends were kicked off the team. Their coaches were fired for giving the teen athletes liquor. They're back to the basics at two-a-day practices with a cobbled-together replacement squad, all the while trying to convince themselves they can actually finish the rest of the season.
Through all this, Chante Dupree and Kristy Ayudan have remained steadfast.
They were steadfast the night it all happened.
On March 11, the Lana'i High girls basketball team was on O'ahu for a preseason tournament. Head coach Russell Zablan has admitted he provided alcohol to his players that night. Nine of the girls were subsequently dropped from the team and suspended from school for allegedly violating the Lana'i athletic department's policy by drinking. Zablan and his assistant, Dale Kapua, were both released from their jobs.
The entire girls basketball program was down to just two, just Chante and Kristy, the only players not accused of drinking during the trip.
Both girls say it wasn't even a temptation; in that moment, away from home and having fun with friends and coaches, it wasn't hard to make the decision not to drink. It was a decision both had made long ago.
"It's part of being a leader," Chante says. Both she and Kristy are captains of the team. "But really it's part of our standards and morals. That's just the way I am. I'm not the kind of person who would drink or smoke."
Peer pressure has never blown her off course. She says it wasn't even the fear of getting in trouble that kept her from partaking that night.
"My parents raised me to be independent. My dad would always tell me, 'You know, you're older now, you can make your own decisions. Just realize the consequences of your actions.' "
Kristy says her life was impacted by a person who drank, and she promised herself "I wouldn't be that way." It was a decision she made as a young child, something that was already firmly rooted when the beers were being passed around during the trip.
"I just never did that stuff," Kristy says. "They don't even offer it to me because they know I'll say no. They don't even bother to ask."
The wind isn't blowing so hard now, but the dust hasn't settled yet.
The girls who are no longer on the team are their close friends. There is sadness and regret, but both girls say, no judgment or condemnation on their part.
The new team is made up of two new coaches and seven new players, six of whom have never played organized basketball before.
"Some people say like, 'Oh, you folks won't make it.' But we say, 'We will! We will! We just keep trying hard and hope for the best," Kristy says.
"The new girls have a lot of heart," Chante says. "We may not have as much talent as the girls we're going to compete against, but we have a lot of motivation."
Both Chante and Kristy are honor-roll students planning to attend college on O'ahu. Chante has her sights set on BYU-Hawai'i and Kristy is considering both UH-Manoa and Hawai'i Pacific University to study nursing.
They both giggle in that way teenage girls do when faced with what they think is a dopey adult question:
What advice would they give to other teens faced with both temptation and adults giving the message that it's OK to indulge?
"I would say listen to the voice inside you," Kristy says, laughing.
And what did her inner voice say?
"I just thought, 'Oh, no, that's not for me.' So I went to bed."
Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at email@example.com or 535-8172.