New Kahuku football head coach Vavae Tata and former head coach Lee Leslie have more than their experience with the Red Raiders in common.
Both men are dedicated to the full package of the word student-athlete. No good grades, no play. And big strides have been made at the school in this area, not just in football, but all sports.
Yes, the pride of Kahuku, which has always been football, may be starting to shift to academic achievement, too. Poor grades, which have hampered the Red Raiders in the past, are beginning to disappear among athletes.
Part of the reason for the improvement is a rule instituted before the 2014-15 school year that ended in May, requiring Kahuku student-athletes to maintain at least a 2.3 grade-point average. The school received a waiver from the Department of Education to do so, and it is 0.3 more stringent than the 2.0 rule for other schools statewide.
According to a DOE news release, based on the third quarter of 2014-15, 64 percent of Kahuku student-athletes earned a 2.75 GPA or higher, up from 46 percent in 2013-14.
In football alone, the release pointed to 38 percent of Kahuku players with a 3.0 GPA or better, thanks to Leslie’s commitment to the classroom. Look for that number to at least stay the same and possibly rise under Tata, who made academics his first priority upon his arrival in April.
“(Previously) students weren’t as motivated and they weren’t being held accountable,” Kahuku High and Intermediate principal Pauline Masaniai said in the release. “Higher expectations lead to high achievement. They can do it; they’re smart.”
For students below the requirement, work is being done to help them until they reach or surpass the 2.3. For them, after-school study hall four times a week is mandatory. Tata, however, requires all football players, regardless of GPA, to attend.
“The students show great awareness and they’re actively performing in class,” Red Raiders athletic director Gillian Yamagata said. “Our goal is to continue doing better so that they have more opportunities for success.”
Interestingly, with the higher 2.3 GPA standard, eligibility across all sports was around 83 percent, according to the release. And, as it turns out, about 83 percent of the 931 students at Kahuku High last school year participated in at least one sport.
According to school officials, the largest gains in percentage of students’ GPAs reaching beyond the 2.75 Hawaii standard benchmark came in softball, track and wrestling.
Scholarship money awarded by colleges is another way to measure Kahuku’s academic success. In 2015, 26 Red Raiders senior student-athletes received $1.7 million in financial help for college. In 2014, five student-athletes received $600,000.
“Our parents understand the focus on academics,” Masaniai said in the release, “and they proudly stand by their children when they receive their scholarships.”
The importance of schoolwork is trickling down to the leaders of the football team. This is what junior starting running back Kesi Ah-Hoy, who earned a scholarship offer from BYU when he was a sophomore, said when Hawaii Prep World visited Kahuku for Tata’s first spring practice May 18:
“He really emphasizes it (academics), which is what I like. He’s very educated and straightforward and wants to set the standard high. He’s really putting it onto us (the upperclassmen) that we need more graduates. So, we’re at study hall helping anyone who needs help.”
A list of 2014-15 Kahuku scholarship winners follows. Amounts for each student were not available. A list of those awarded scholarships for 2013-14 was also not available.
Kahuku scholarship winners, 2014-15
>> Salanoa-Alo Wily, UNLV football
>> Maila Aluli, Fort Lewis College (Colorado) soccer
>> Soli Afalava, UNLV football
>> Jamaisha Farley, Lindenwood (Missouri), rugby
>> Pena Fitisemanu, Utah football
>> Alohi Gilman, Navy football
>> Malik Haynes, Ventura City College (California) football
>> Pikake Hix, Lane College (Tennessee) soccer
>> Kahea Kahaulelio, Pitzer College (California) water polo
>> Nohea Kahaulelio, Pitzer College (California) water polo
>> Kaapuni Kanoa, Lindenwood (Missouri), rugby
>> Lopaka Keoho-Lessary, Lindenwood (Missouri) rugby
>> Jaelyn Lowery, Jamestown (North Dakota) soccer
>> Chance Maghanoy, San Jose City College football
>> Misifoa Matagi, Lindenwood (Missouri) rugby
>> Spencer Niutupuivaha, Weber State (Utah) football
>> John Ofahengaue, Pima Community College (Arizona) football
>> Roman Salanoa, Lindenwood (Missouri) rugby
>> Mikel Sodini, Notre Dame de Namur (California) soccer
>> Marquesa Suesue, Lindenwood (Missouri), rugby
>> Victor Taulau, Garden City College (Kansas) football
>> Siotame Uluave, Snow College (Utah) football
>> Ryan Thomas Unga, Lindenwood (Missouri) rugby
>> Anela Wasson, Menlo College (California) wrestling
>> Jrue Williams, Lindenwood (Missouri) rugby
>> Tuli Wily-Matagi, Oregon State football