The passing of Carl Bryson hit home for family and friends stretching from Waimea on the Big Island to Maryland. Bryson was a stellar two-way Ironman during an amazing run by Hawaii Preparatory Academy during the 1990s. Playing for his father, head coach Gordon Bryson, with mom Liz Bryson always nearby helping the team, Carl helped Ka Makani contend for the BIIF title several times. Then, in the winter seasons, he was one of the state’s best on the mat, winning a wrestling championship despite coming from a school with barely 200 students.
Bobby Command was there to experience all of it during those years as a sports editor, then city editor at West Hawaii Today. He attended the memorial service for Carl Bryson recently and scribed this collection of memories from today and yesteryear.
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Memorial services can be sad occasions, but they have a silver lining. Many end up as reunions where friends and family share love, laughter and distant memories.
Such was the one on Sunday (Feb. 12) at Hawaii Preparatory Academy for Carl Bryson, 44, who recently passed on the East Coast. “A beast,” as a friend called him during his eulogy, Carl was a state champion wrestler and all-star lineman who played for his father, Gordon, and in particular, in one of the most memorable seasons in Big Island Interscholastic Federation history. Most of that 1991 season pivoted around a game that took place in sunny Waimea on Saturday, Oct. 25. When the drama was over in the final quarter, Hilo had hung on to a 19-15 victory and essentially clinched the league title.
Looking around Gates Chapel at HPA, it was incredible to think that half of the 150 or so who had gathered to celebrate Carl’s life, were also just down the hill on the football field more than a quarter century ago when Hilo High School’s Robert Medeiros led the Vikings on a two-minute drill that all but secured the school its first BIIF championship since 1979, and end Konawaena’s 11-year stranglehold on the league title.
Hilo and HPA entered the game tied on the top of the standings with 6-1 record. Kona followed at 5-2. If Ka Makani defeated Hilo that day, it would have set up the possibility of a nightmarish three-way tie at the end of the season with no open weekend to break even a two-way tie before the BIIF champion met the Kauai champion in the first round of the Neighbor Island Bowl.
Hawaii Prep grabbed an early lead on a safety, but Hilo followed that up with a touchdown to make it 7-2. Ka Makani tacked on a field goal and the game went into the half at 7-5. HPA then ground out a touchdown — Ka Makani passed for one yard that day — and added another field goal to lead 15-7. The Viks managed to score on a long pass but the missed the two-point conversion and the game went into the final stanza with HPA in control, 15-13.
It stayed that way until near the end of the game when an Allyn Spencer punt pinned the Viks at their own 4-yard line with 2:32 remaining. Hilo could only pick up six yards in three downs and on fourth and 4 deep in Ka Makani territory, it appeared HPA had the game in the bag. But Medeiros, one of Hawaii Island’s all-time great athletes, would not be denied the prize on this day. He dropped back to pass, and seeing everyone covered, scampered up the middle for seven yards to keep the drive alive.
Medeiros then hit three consecutive passes that picked up first downs, setting Hilo up on the HPA 27. On the next play, Medeiros tried to pass to Casey Newman along the makai sidelines, but with Carl Bryson in his face, his pass sailed high and landed well out of bounds.
And then flew the yellow flag.
“I was right there,” said Kona coach Bob Fitzgerald, who came to see the game before rushing back to Kona to coach his team that night. “The ball had to have landed 40 yards out of bounds. And then another flag on the coach.”
That coach was Ron Marciel, who had mentored the Saint Louis Crusaders in the 1960s and 70s before retiring to Waimea and ending up on the HPA staff. Marciel, like many others, believed the ball was uncatchable — it was — but the rules are a little different in high school football; “uncatchable is irrelevant in high school football,” said one referee. “You watch the players, not the ball.”
Marciel was not having it that day. “He went crazy,” said Fitzgerald, who was hoping for an HPA victory just so his Wildcats might have and another shot at a quickly fading 12th straight title. “He just went nuts.”
The interference penalty set up Hilo at the HPA 15, and the penalty on Marciel — half the distance to the goal — left the ball at the 7. On the next play, Medeiros dropped back to pass again. Sophomore Jed Ednie said he and Carl sandwiched Medeiros, but the quarterback somehow got the pass off. “The ball went up,” Ednie said. “Then it went forward and then it came down, right in the receiver’s hands.”
And that was that.
Oh, there was a kickoff and a desperation play at the end, but Viking Dustin Nakashima‘s catch in the end zone was the dagger in the heart of all those wearing red that day.
Fast forward one score and six years. We’re sitting outside the Student Union at HPA, remembering Carl Bryson, enjoying each other’s company, renewing friendships, and telling old war stories. Gordon, is front and center, holding court in the way that only Gordon Bryson can. This could be 25 years ago, or even 35 years ago when I first met “Gordy,” an English teacher and assistant under then head coach Edward “Pete” Provencal. He had introduced himself to me with a scolding for using the word, “gonna” in a West Hawaii Today news story. It was the foundation of a lifelong friendship.
“If we had to lose, then I’m glad it was against David,” said Bryson, referring to Hilo head coach David Namauu, a mountain of a man with a heart of gold who had been around Hilo football all his life and whose family had suffered an unspeakable tragedy. “He got me for all the times the aunties in Hilo fed me before they fed him after the game. He hated that.”
Looking back a third of a lifetime ago, it’s amazing that the runts at HPA were able to even keep up with these Vikings. This was the tail end of possibly the best crop of athletes Hilo High School had ever produced, and that’s saying a lot, given the fact the the ancient institution on Waianuenue Avenue has produced such immortals as Ah Chew Goo, Yoshinobu Oyakawa, Alex Laigo, Al and Larry Manliguis, Alan Tanabe and Reed Sunahara.
Medeiros, who went on to play four years of baseball at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, turned down a professional baseball contract and returned to the Big Island as a teacher and later an administrator at Kamehameha Schools. He was a reserve guard on the 1991 state championship boys basketball team, the first boys neighbor island champion in 27 years. He then took his football teammates, including Newman, Tod Bello and Mokoi Poussima, and pushed Kamehameha into double overtime before losing the 1992 boys state hoops title.
“I often wonder what happened to this guy, and what happened to that girl, and I guess I shouldn’t be so amazed when I find out how successful so many of these athletes are as adults,” I prompt Gordon, fulling expecting his answer. “They’re all good people,” said Bryson, his voice beginning to crack with emotion. “A lot of them are here today to pay their respects to Carl. They’re all my boys too, and I love them all.”
And they love you and your family too, Gordon. They love you too.