Kahuku High players stage boycott
By Wes Nakama
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Wes Nakama
About half of Kahuku High School's 96 football players, encouraged by certain members of the community, staged a boycott during all but the last 20 to 30 minutes of practice yesterday to protest against head coach Reggie Torres, according to team co-captain Shiloah Te'o.
Te'o, who did not participate in the boycott, said the protesting players stood on the bleachers during the first 90 minutes of practice before joining their teammates after Torres talked to community members at the field.
Torres, whom community members petitioned to be fired last week, has been under intense scrutiny by players, parents and fans for his strict rules, especially regarding celebrating good plays and showing emotion.
Te'o said district superintendent Lea Albert was scheduled to meet with Kahuku athletic director Joe Whitford and members of the community last night.
Neither Whitford nor Torres could be reached for comment.
The defending state champion Red Raiders, who are 4-0 in the O'ahu Interscholastic Association and ranked No. 3 in The Advertiser's statewide Top 10 poll of coaches and media, are scheduled to play at Castle on Saturday.
Te'o, a senior defensive back, and Patrick Au, a senior offensive lineman, said the main issue is Torres' philosophy of stressing a low-key approach as far as emotions on the field.
"Reggie has a lot of rules, and a lot of the players just want to play football and have fun," Te'o said. "For a lot of people, it's Kahuku tradition. They want to go back to the old ways, when (players) had fun and could do whatever they want (as far as on-field celebrations)."
Au, who is sidelined by a knee injury, said some players feel restrained by Torres' rules.
"Some players are upset because there's a certain limit on the kind of celebrating they can do," said Au, who added he would have practiced if he were healthy.
Torres, the Red Raiders' 10-year JV head coach now in his second year at the varsity helm, has been under scrutiny by some members of the Kahuku football community almost since the day he took over for Siuaki Livai in April of 2006. Even during the Red Raiders' state championship season last year, critics questioned his conservative play-calling and strict rules off the field.
The criticism carried over into this season, and reached a boiling point last week when the team held a players-only meeting on Sept. 23 and then a petition was circulated throughout the community calling for his removal.
On Sept. 27, Torres, Kahuku principal Lisa DeLong and Whitford met with members of the community, and Torres said some issues were ironed out.
One compromise was allowing the team to perform a haka on the field, facing the home crowd before last week's homecoming game against Farrington.
The Red Raiders won, 27-7, and the game and post-game activities carried on without incident.
But Te'o said the players and members of the community met again Tuesday night, and the players were encouraged to stage a boycott of yesterday's practice.
"We had roll call at 2 o'clock, and everybody showed up," Te'o said. "The defense lifted (weights), but then when practice started (the protesters) went to the stands and just stood there."
Te'o said "it was split about 50-50" as far as players who protested and players who chose to practice. He said some players chose to practice after hearing that college coaches might be influenced if they heard they were part of the boycott.
Still, Te'o said only five defensive starters and six on offense practiced. But Te'o, a starter and college prospect whose father David is an assistant coach, said he chose to practice on his own.
"To me, Reggie is still my head coach, so even if you don't agree with some things, you still should practice for him and the team," Te'o said. "You just gotta deal with it. But me and (co-captain) Benji (Kemoeatu) said we cannot be mad at (the protesters) for standing up for what they believe in."
David Te'o declined comment, saying he signed a non-disclosure document.
Te'o said the captains met after yesterday's practice.
"We said, 'We cannot let this thing rip us apart,' " Te'o said. "We have a strong team, and we have to pull it together in the end."
Reach Wes Nakama at firstname.lastname@example.org.