As of Wednesday morning, the sturdy Na Koa of Anuenue are hanging tough.
Despite suiting up just 16 players against Kaimuki on Saturday, Anuenue is continuing on with its football season. Na Koa will play Kalani on Friday.
“We don’t really have a (roster) number,” OIA football coordinator Harold Tanaka said of minimum requirements.
In years past, any roster number in the low 20s would draw very close attention from league officials. Anuenue is the smallest school participating in OIA football and has a history of sticking through low numbers to complete seasons.
“It’s not my job to micromanage them,” Tanaka said. “It’s week to week.”
Prior to the 26-6 loss to Kaimuki on Saturday, Anuenue forfeited its league opener against Radford. In some years, however, Na Koa were very competitive with many two-way, Ironman athletes.
In 2007, they traveled to the Big Island and blanked Kohala 30-0, then won two of their first three OIA White games. Na Koa finished the season 3-5 in league play.
In ’09, Anuenue went 2-6 in league play and also beat Kamehameha-Maui 26-20 in preseason.
In ’10, Anuenue was 3-5 in league play. Running back Ikaika Gante had single-game rushing totals of 233 yards against McKinley, 249 yards against Kalaheo and 242 yards against Kalani. In ’11, Kainalu Kaleo had rushing totals of 250 yards against Nanakuli and 216 against Kalaheo as Na Koa went 2-6 in league games.
The one plus about the ’14 season in the OIA White Conference (Division II) is that the teams are more or less on an even playing field with Kaiser now up in the Red Conference (D-I). Roster numbers may be down at Anuenue, but they’re also down at other D-II schools. And none of the OIA White teams, unlike Kaiser in ’13, has received a massive number of incoming transfers. Many, if not all, of those transfers were potential college players.
At the end of the ’13 season, then-coach Kealoha Wengler noted that the middle school at Anuenue had a good number of football players. His only concern was that the current varsity program was a bit low on numbers. He considered 8-man football as a stop-gap option.
Wengler has since left the school and the OIA, understandably, has shown no interest in the 8-man game, not with 23 current football members. A few of them, including Waialua, have struggled with numbers at times in recent years.
Eight-man football is flourishing in the Maui Interscholastic League. Charter members Seabury Hall (league champion), Hana, Molokai and St. Anthony have been joined by Kihei Charter and Lanai this fall.
On the Big Island, three schools — Ka‘u, Kohala and Pahoa — are starting an 8-man football league. Ka‘u had a busy exhibition season last year, playing Seabury Hall and a number of JV teams.
In the ILH, there are at least two schools moderately interested in 8-man football. Forming a series of “club” football games with a program like Anuenue has always been a possibility, but making the financial commitment to starting a program from scratch is a big issue for any smaller athletic department.
History and pride are on Anuenue’s side. If the school’s younger group of football talent sticks together, numbers shouldn’t be a problem in another year or two. Eight-man football will likely always be, as it is on the mainland, wildly popular in rural areas.