Win over Kamehameha source of pride in Kalihi
By Jim Becker
Special to The Advertiser
By Jim Becker
Little do the participants in this week’s state high school football playoffs realize, but these final games could affect their lives. Just ask the West O‘ahu Little League players, who will find themselves connected for life.
Such is the case, too, of a group of players, who 40 years ago this month, played a game so inspiring it still resonates in the community. It will always be remembered as the day Farrington won it all.
Ironically, the Governors haven’t won it all since. But to this day, the core of that winning team remains close, friendships fused by the events of Nov. 25, 1965. Long-time journalist Jim Becker remembers the game — a 16-6 victory over Kamehameha — that still evokes memories and strong emotions for those in Kalihi and beyond.
Sunday, the group will hold a reunion. Today, The Advertiser brings back the memories.
In the 1960s, the centerpiece of Honolulu's sports and social calendar was the Thanksgiving Day football game pitting the two top teams in the old Interscholastic League of Honolulu for the city championship.
Honolulu was half the size then. Saimin at the old Honolulu Stadium cost 50 cents. Regular gas was 35 cents a gallon.
In 1965, the two teams vying for the championship were mighty Kamehameha and underdog Farrington High School.
In the stands, 25,000 watched, cheered and poured out their emotion in a tightly contested game.
When it was over, Farrington would be champions for the first time since 1944 and the victory would reverberate through Kalihi and beyond. For the players, it was a life-changing experience. Nearly two-thirds went on to college, a rarity at the time.
For before the 'Ewa Beach Little League won it all, there were the Farrington Governors who won it all 40 years ago.
Receiver Tom Gushiken, now a Waipahu High School counselor, remembers, "When 'Ewa Beach won the World Series, it was like what happened to us. We were celebrities in our time. It meant so much to Kalihi."
The Farrington achievement — a 16-6 victory over Kamehameha on Nov. 25, 1965 — was big news, the story of a bunch of high school kids from a part of town so tough thieves one day stripped every car in the school faculty parking lot. The lone car to escape damage belonged to big, burly football coach Tom Kiyosaki, a twice-wounded war veteran with a stern manner and marshmallow heart.
The team rode a bus so dilapidated it once caught fire on the way to a game and the players had to borrow a garden hose to put it out.
Out of that material came the team that seemed touched by destiny, a tight-knit group of players who learned to say, "Yes, sir," to their coaches, who prayed for guidance before the big game and cried so hard their bodies shook when they beat Kamehameha for the championship at the old Honolulu Stadium.
Forty years later, still a tight-knit group, the players are throwing a party Sunday to mark the anniversary of the victory that changed their lives.
The party invitation reads: "Forty years ago we were part of something special on the day the Govs won it all. We want to relive that day once again. We want friends, classmates and fans to be part of the celebration."
According to Gordon Hunter, lineman and unofficial team historian, about 30 of the 45 players on the team roster are expected to attend the party.
Japan baseball Hall of Famer Wally Yonamine, who played on the last Farrington championship football team in 1944, is expected to attend, according to Hunter.
All told, about 100 may attend.
The number is undetermined because of the likes of John Kameenui, tackle and co-captain, who lives in North Carolina where he is area manager for one of the big box stores.
"You never know about John," Hunter said. "We sent him a ticket to our 25th reunion and he only got as far as Las Vegas. He telephoned us from there. This time we told him if he will pay his way home, we will pay to get him back.
"John's twin brother, Ed, played for Kamehameha. They played against each other in that game."
Hunter tries to keep track of all the players on the championship team.
"Three have died," he said, "and we have lost touch with three or four, including Amby Costa, our center and another co-captain, but we're trying to find them through their families.
"But most of the others have said they will come, some from the Mainland."
Kiyosaki died some 20 years ago, but coaches Eckie Espina and Harry Pacarro, who devoted their lives to Farrington athletics, will attend, along with their wives, who in their time housed and fed dozens of Farrington players from troubled homes.
"Emme is coming," said Gushiken of TV personality Emme Tomimbang, who was a sophomore cheerleader then. "She said, 'You name the time and place and I'll be there.'
"And we called the leader of our school band," Hunter said. "We hope he can get some of his players together and come to the party."
The group has remained close, bonded together forever by the events of that day.
The Governors played their best game 40 years ago.
They needed to. They entered the game as eight-point underdogs having lost 25-6 to Kamehameha during the regular season.
The game was a struggle to the very end. Kamehameha scored first, but Farrington answered. When quarterback Stan Cadiente passed for a touchdown to Walter Rodrigues and then bulled over for the two-point conversion, the Governors had an 8-6 lead at halftime.
Cadiente, who also played defensive back, stopped a Kamehameha drive with an interception in the end zone in the second quarter.
The second half was a tense battle for field position until Farrington scored the clinching touchdown on a pass from Cadiente to Rodrigues with only 2 minutes left.
Even then Kiyosaki refused to relax until the final whistle.
After it was over, and when the Farrington band played the alma mater, Kameenui cried so hard his big body shook, and Costa cried, and so did the others, and Kiyosaki tried but couldn't hold back the tears.
"We're really grateful of what has happened to us," Gushiken said. "We were the heroes of the community."
Gushiken said a championship luau held a few weeks later at then-Honolulu International Center (now Blaisdell) drew 3,000.
Gushiken said the experience "made us become more respectful of who we are and where we came from."
Said Hunter: "The biggest thing, it made us equals ... because we were Farrington, from Kalihi, the poor guys. The word we use now is self-esteem."
For that, the players give much of the credit to Kiyosaki.
"He put a lot of fear in all of us. But the fear turned into respect because he had so much compassion for us," Gushiken said.
"Till today, whenever we get together, no matter what stories we have, we always end up talking about coach."
Over the years the players have attended each other's weddings, and the occasional funeral, coached each other's kids, played softball and golf together, met when a teammate who lives on the Mainland visited and gathered semi-regularly to talk story, usually at Hunter's house. He is the only one who still lives in Kalihi.
"When the families started to come we all moved away," said Cadiente, a passer, punter, place-kicker, play caller, defensive back and undisputed leader of the team.
They still share the friendship and the laughter.
"We were one team," Rodrigues said. "We had a chop suey team, Filipino, Chinese, Japanese, Samoan, Hawaiian, hapa-haole, Portuguese. And the main thing we had was love."
"If we had so much love, how come Gordon (Higa) and I didn't get to play more?" asked Hunter.
"We didn't have that much love," Rodrigues said.
Editor's note: Long-time journalist Jim Becker gives occasional lectures and broadcasts, and has just finished a book about his journalistic experiences, including the Govs' Day.