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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, March 25, 2006

Golf-club theft a bogey for Hilo team

By Leila Wai
Advertiser Staff Writer

From left, coach Ken Watanabe, players Brittany Johnston, Lindsey Nishimura and Britney Yada, and assistant coach Eric Yabuta returned to Hilo yesterday saddened by the loss of their golf clubs.

REBECCA BREYER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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HOW TO HELP

Anyone with information is asked to call the Honolulu Police Department's District 3 headquarters in Pearl City at 455-9055 and ask for Detective Jimmy Chong, the Hawai'i High School Athletic Association at 587-4495 on O'ahu or Waiakea Athletic Director Ken Yamase at (808) 974-4830.

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Members of the Waiakea High School girls' golf team were eating at a Waikele restaurant, having a good time, laughing and discussing the deals they found while shopping. But their chaperones broke the festive mood, telling them their belongings had been stolen.

Ten golf bags filled with clubs worth about $1,500 per bag belonging to parents and members of the team were taken from a van Thursday night, along with personal belongings and shopping bags with items purchased that day. The van was looted while the team was having dinner at Chili's Grill & Bar at 94-797 Lumiaina St.

"We were having fun," said sophomore Casey Aburamen, 15, whose clubs were stolen. "It totally ruined our trip. Some of us are staying (on O'ahu) longer, but now we just want to go home."

Honolulu police were investigating. Some of the team left for Hilo yesterday.

The team traveled to O'ahu for some practice time at Turtle Bay Resort Golf Club, the site of May's high school state tournament. Waiakea won the state championship last year.

"They're in much brighter spirits than last night," Waiakea coach Ken Watanabe said yesterday. "They still are kind of depressed. Of course, they are sad because some of them had some personal stuff in the bags, too. One of the girls had a ring passed down from her mom stolen."

All but two of the 10 team members will have to find and adjust to new clubs for a Big Island Interscholastic Federation tournament on next Saturday.

"We really need those clubs, because it does take a long time to adjust," said senior co-captain Nicole Aoki, whose golf bag was not stolen. "I don't think the people who took it know how much value they have, not just with money, but how we need it. They're our personal clubs, because we've had them for so long.

"It's not like clothes we can replace; it's golf clubs that we've had for years already."

The team's chaperones Aoki's father, Clyde Aoki, and Blane Aburamen, Casey's father discovered the bags were stolen.

The group rented three vans; the golfers rode in two of them, with the bags in the third. Clyde Aoki and Blane Aburamen rode in the third van with the players' bags and clubs. In all, eight players and two chaperones lost their bags and clubs.

"We didn't really know what was going on," Nicole Aoki said. "We were still in the Chili's parking lot and they called to us in the car, and they said, 'Our bags are missing.' My first reaction was I thought they were joking, and I saw the van and realized they weren't."

Police said the thieves used a sharp instrument, possibly a screwdriver, to punch the van's driver's side door lock. Once inside, the thieves could open the van's trunk and sliding door to unload the golf bags.

"Somebody had to have seen someone taking 10 golf bags out of a van and just thought that was supposed to be happening," police Maj. Deborah Tandal said. "(Chili's is) right in the middle of the parking lot. It's not like Waikele is an unpopulated place. If somebody saw what happened and didn't realize it was a crime, then let us know."

The golf bags were embroidered with the golfers' names and "Waiakea High Golf."

Watanabe said adjusting to a new set of clubs can be difficult and "trying to find the proper match is going to be a challenge."

Waiakea usually takes a trip every year to the golf course that hosts the state tournament, and each golfer pays her own way.

Police said there have been fewer than 20 car break-ins at the Waikele shopping center this year.

Advertiser staff writer Peter Boylan contributed to this report.

Reach Leila Wai at lwai@honoluluadvertiser.com.