Amalia Paige Hilliard saw the writing on the wall years ago.
Or actually, there was writing on the table. Year after year, season after season, young Paige sat at the entrance on Letter-of-Intent Signing Day for then-host Pacific Islands Athletic Alliance. High school seniors from virtually every sport filtered through the doors of the Honolulu Elks Lodge in Waikiki or the rode the escalator up to the Sheraton Waikiki Ballrooms. There were the PIAA volunteers, ready and able to assist. There was Paige, not even a teenager yet, greeting student-athletes on the biggest day of the young lives.
She was there at 5 a.m. with her mom, Amalia Hilliard. She just wanted to help. Today, it’s Paige who was on the other side of the table. She checked in shortly after 5 a.m., and by 6 a.m., she was a speaker and signee. The Punahou volleyball standout put pen to paper and signed with Louisiana State University, accepting a full-ride scholarship to the Baton Rouge campus.
“It is very trippy. I still feel like I should be a 12-year-old in the corner stuffing my face with pastries,” Hilliard said.
She was one of 40 signees, mostly volleyball players, but also including athletes in baseball, golf and softball. Most of the signees, like all sports besides football, receive partial scholarships. Hillard’s full ride isn’t a common route for most prospects, but she had a strong support circle that included her family. An older brother, Dalton Hilliard, was a multi-sport standout at Punahou and played at UCLA on a football scholarship.
“I think my parents are one of a kind. If I had any other type of upbringing, not worse or bad, it might have been a lot different,” she said. “I’m grate to my two loving parents and my two loving brothers. For them to allow me to fall on my face, having those downfalls — “That really sucked” — and they’d lift me up. My mom would say, ‘You just gotta go up from here.’ “
A class at Punahou, Advanced Placement Environmental Science, sparked her interest in the field. Hilliard plans on majoring in Environmental Engineer at LSU.
“Holy smokes, this planet is dying. We’re trying to re-invent the modern world so it’s more eco-friendly,” she said. “I want to be a part of that.”
Malia Nam of Kaiser enjoyed her signing moment. The Kaiser senior will golf at USC next season. She placed fourth in the Carlsbad Golf/HHSAA State Championships in each of the past two years. As a freshman, she was already No. 7 at the state tourney.
“I like the big campus and the diversity. I like the weather there, also,” she said. “I want to experience the big campus and the big life outside of campus. The school has so much resources, and I’ll be surrounded by so much talent. Being able to go to LA on the weekend.”
Nam, a two-time Oahu Interscholastic Association champion, is prepared for the expectations. Her senior season of golf is still a few months away.
“There’s always huge expectations of winning states and tournaments, but this year, I’m going to try to have fun and, hopefully, win states,” she said.
Nam is planning to major in Business Administration with a minor in Communications. She is also interested in physical therapy.
“Traveling, maybe being a sports agent or physical therapist,” she said.
The signing-day event is hosted by Education-1st Hawaii’s team of Asai Gilman, Kawika Kane and volunteers Jenny Elmore, Amalia Hilliard, Keawe Gilman and more.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF JENNY ELMORE