I‘m grateful for many things. One is covering sports for eight years in a place that has, as my old editor Bobby Command (at West Hawaii Today) would say, “provincial” qualities. Honokaa vs. Kohala basketball in the 1990s drew packed gyms for boys and girls games. Cousins versus cousins, going back generations. Keone Emeliano, Kalei Emeliano, Travis Van Zandt, Kihei Kapeliela, Benny Alcoran launching 3-point bombs all night for Kohala. Jayme Carvalho, Taich Alip, Kaulana Noa holding down the fort (a.k.a. Lester Bryan Armory) for Honokaa.
Hilo versus the World. Grandmas sweeping the court immediately after the final buzzer at tiny Laupahoehoe gym. Konawaena boys challenging every year and coming a wee bit short until Brandon Cablay and Wilton Paogofie arrived.
All that rivalry, all those miles on country roads through pastures and hills and fog (nobody warned me about fog!), they filtered into the potential for greatness. The competitiveness set the stage for a dynasty, and years later, we have a program, Konawaena girls, with seven Division I state championships in 13 years. Jessica Hanato, Jazzmin Awa-Williams, Nancy Hoist, Mana Hopkins, Hina Kimitete, Dawnyelle Awa, Lia Galdeira, Chanelle Molina, Ihi Victor, Celena Jane Molina, Cherilyn Molina. Too many to name.
They are, in effect, what Hoosier high school basketball once was. Unlike Indiana, which went to an enrollment-based classification in 1997, a small school like Konawaena can play up in the highest division if desired.
The Wildcats did it with dedicated coaches (Bobbie Awa assisted by Donald Awa and staff) and great commitment by their players. The work was done in the offseason. They did it without being pushed to the hilt every year in their own league, though the gap could start to close soon as Honokaa improves, KS-Hawaii, Hilo and Waiakea continue to benefit from feeder programs.
But when it comes to packed country gyms and great rivalries, I’ll never forget the ’90s and those trips to Kohala and Honokaa. Even Hilo-Waiakea-St. Joseph at the Civic. The only fans on Oahu who consistently come close to what those communities (and Konawaena) had are Kahuku and Farrington.