Soccer draft picks inspire Isle youths
By Leila Wai
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Leila Wai
On most Saturday mornings, 9-year-old Chauncey Kino of Honolulu bypasses cartoons and channel-surfs for soccer games on TV.
His aunt, Roxane Sylva, said the possibility of seeing players from Hawai'i in those games gives Chauncey, who has played soccer since age 4, incentive to push himself. "I think he might think he can be one of them," she said.
The chances of seeing a Hawai'i professional soccer player doubled on Friday when Duke Hashimoto, an Iolani School alumnus from Kapolei, was drafted by the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer, the top professional soccer league in the United States.
Hashimoto, a 5-foot-7, 150-pound senior at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, joined Brian Ching, a Kamehameha Schools graduate from Hale'iwa, as the only players from Hawai'i ever to be drafted by teams in the MLS, which was formed in 1996. Ching was drafted in 2001.
"It shows Hawai'i players can compete at that level. Those two are pioneers for all the people who come behind them," said Scott Keopuhiwa, president of the Hawai'i Youth Soccer Association.
Six years ago, there were no Hawai'i players in the MLS. Now with Ching, who plays for Houston, and Hashimoto paving the way, reaching the professional ranks doesn't seem out of reach for younger players in this community, which is so intensely interested in youth soccer.
More than 27,000 boys, girls, men and women in Hawai'i are playing the sport, making it one of the state's most popular activities. While it's in season, public parks are packed with teams competing for space to practice and play.
"I think being exposed to that level of competition, seeing it on TV, seeing their older role models, it definitely inspires them to work hard and play hard, and continue to get opportunities to play at higher levels," Keopuhiwa said.
Ching added that for players from Hawai'i who don't reach the professional ranks, the sport still can open doors at the intercollegiate level.
"When I first went to college, there were only a handful of players (from Hawai'i)," said Ching, who attended Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash. "Now there's a ton. (Having players from Hawai'i in the MLS) helps players from Hawai'i believe they can do it. With hard work, they can achieve what I have achieved, and what Duke has achieved so far."
Kevin Richardson, father of 9-year-old Elliott, has hoped his son would show more interest in soccer. Now, knowing Hawai'i players can make it professionally, Richardson has a motivating factor to point out.
"I'm going to use that to my advantage, to get him more involved in it," he said.
"I know a lot of kids look up to local athletes. I had no idea soccer was such a big deal, so widely accepted."
Having more Hawai'i players also will heighten awareness on the Mainland about the talent level in the state.
"I definitely think it's a good start, to get people (nationally) more focused on players from Hawai'i," said Ching, from Los Angeles, where he is with the U.S. Men's National Team training camp.
"There's a lot of talent in Hawai'i, so more people could play professionally," said University Laboratory School eighth-grader Keenan Lung, 13, who plays soccer for Pac-Five and a youth team.
However, Lung doesn't have tunnel vision directly to the professional ranks.
"I'm trying to get into high school first," he said.
Reach Leila Wai at email@example.com.