Waialua is doing something right.
You want real football? Go there.
No, it’s not 750 yards of passing with glitzy uniforms and an artificial turf field.
This is real grass, and clouds of dirt actually do rise when the players hit the ground.
There are no JV games, so the varsity starts at 6 p.m., giving everyone plenty of time to go home and relax and unwind before going to bed.
Like some other football fields on Oahu, there are no hashmarks to judge the precise ball placement, but this is just a game, right? Stats are cool and they drive this website, but when the sun sets with precious Mt. Kaala in the background, there will be no difference between what went down in the official stats as a 7-yard touchdown and what was actually an 8-yard touchdown.
As someone who has covered football games for a third of a century, I can attest to the fact that one man’s 18-yard pass is another man’s 17-yarder. And this was so very true at Waialua, where if you weren’t actually on the field, walking up and down along with each drive, you did not know which yard line the ball was on. I tried it for about two plays in the press box before running down to the field so I could get a closer look — all in the name of keeping thorough stats.
Oh, and I’m not complaining. Not at all. This was, indeed, football the way I imagine it was meant to be played, and I for one, would rather be on the sidelines than the press box any day. There, you can hear the hits a lot better and feel the vibrations of thumping cleats on the grass. Try it. It sounds like a bunch of galloping horses, especially if you close your eyes.
It should also be mentioned that the sun nearly setting and pointing directly at the press box also caused a glare, making it even more difficult to see the yard lines. Binoculars were of little help.
Circumstances beyond my control (deadline, ease of writing on a laptop) put me in the press box about 99 percent of the time these days, however.
And so I spent the game on the Waialua sideline,and said hello to a former youth inline hockey player with the Mililani RedHawks, Austin Ramos-Ladia. I was his coach about five years ago. He was wearing jersey No. 1 and that is pretty much the only reason I knew he was even on the team — the first player listed on the roster, right at the top of the page.
But the biggest thing that makes Waialua special is the friendly people. On Saturday night (a 43-14 loss to Nanakuli), it was my second time covering a game at Toshiyuki Nakasone Stadium. I was also there for a game against Nanakuli two years ago.
In both games, a Waialua lineman recovered at least one fumble for a touchdown. After both games, I interviewed the lineman and when I was done, I was warmly greeted afterward by their relatives. In 2012, Tala Fuatiga recovered three fumbles and scored on two of them. His mother came up to give me thanks. It was deja vu on Saturday after Kaimi Kamai scored on a fumble revovery and his grandmother and mother both said thanks.
This is the type of thing that happens in a small-market town, so to speak. OIA Division II. Playing for the pride of the community, and where everybody gathers after the game for a potluck, win or lose.
The Waialua Bulldogs are what football is all about. Family, pride, community. Winning is not the highest priority. You can tell that by their record (1-3), of course, but you can also tell it from the demeanor of head coach Lincoln Barit and his assistants and the way the fans respond when the team scores a touchdown that is virtually meaningless in the box score, but means so much more to the players and their families and their coaches from this quaint little North Shore town.
“My brother (Kapono Kamai) got it first, but he lost it and I jumped on it,” Kaimi Kamai said about the fumble recovery for a touchdown in the Nanakuli end zone. “I got up and I was the happiest boy in the world. I didn’t know what to do. I was all excited.”