Upgrade in grades shows at Kahuku

Kahuku junior running back Kesi Ah-Hoy is among the team leaders who has been asked to help teammates at study hall. Jay Metzger / Special to the Star-Advertiser.
Kahuku junior running back Kesi Ah-Hoy is among the team leaders who has been asked to help teammates at study hall. Jay Metzger / Special to the Star-Advertiser.

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


  1. OahuPuns August 10, 2015 11:42 pm

    Funny how the Principal and AD can speak publicly on good news but cant give us answers about their LIST of local alumni coaches that are not allowed on the football field in any capacity, even as a helper. Darren Johnson one of them that got kicked off the field while trying to help the JV. Please StarAdvertiser please investigate and help us get answers.

  2. Mahatma Gandhi August 11, 2015 1:23 am

    Why does Darren Johnson always quietly get relieved of his head coaching duties? All he does is win. He started at QB at Kahuku. His boy starred at Kahuku and won 2 state footbal championships while there. Darren Johnson had Kailua consistenly in the state top 4. He took Kaimuki to the state semifinals. Div 1 semifinal, not Div 2. They kicked him off the field? Not a good way to treat any Kahuku alum, especially one who has given so much to Kahuku.

  3. Northshore August 11, 2015 7:19 am

    There’s no need to provide and explanation by the head coach as to why uninvited wanna-be coaches, former alumni or former coaches are asked to leave the field. The coaching staff do have an agenda especially after a staff meeting, and all of them will be on the same page working towards a common goal. Normally, uninvited wanna-be’s take up space and just want to be part of the coaching staff. The least amount of wanna-be’s will keep the confusion of the players at a minimum.

  4. Concerned August 11, 2015 11:46 am

    While I am so proud of all the student athletes for making education and academics a priority, I have to agree with other who question the Administration and AD about how this come to be. The Star Advertiser should investigate the protocols or lack thereof when hiring coaches. Why were some candidates who applied for the football coaching job not even granted an interview? The list was very long and they didn’t interview many of the applicants and no reason was given. Last time I checked that wouldn’t be considered equal opportunity.

  5. OahuPuns August 11, 2015 12:41 pm

    This has nothing to do with the varsity head coach. It was the JV head coach that asked Darren to come and help out but the AD said Darren is not allowed on the field because he did not pass a “DOE” background check yet Darren was just coaching at Kapolei last year. If you understand the history of the AD (Yamagata) who is from Laie you will know the run in she had with the other people of the community and how she is using her position as AD to keep certain groups of people away from the athletic program.

    That is why the JV head coach stepped down because her list of “NON-Qualified” coaches is really a list of locals that she does not like and the JV coach wanted nothing to do with the BS bigotry. Her personal agenda is unethical and very obvious if you look at the past two hirings of the varsity head coach..

    ..and while you are calling our kahuku alumni coaches “wanna-be’s”, the only wanna-be’s I see are the past two head coaches that are not from here and WANT TO BE a part of a program that Darren, Reggie, Siuaki, Doug Semones built from the 70’s to Now. Darren sure in Hell raised a talented kid in Kawe that won us 2 state championships, and Reggie sure in Hell raised another son in Richard that won us two more state titles.

    We already have passionate qualified coaches with college and NFL exerience in our community, I never thought Id see the day where an Idahoan and a St. Louis Crusader “WANTED TO BE” a red raider so badly. geeez! oh well! all about the kids – Lets go get um boys!

  6. 88 August 11, 2015 1:52 pm

    WOW, thats a lot of information you have there OahuPuns. Thank you for sharing. Not to many people know whats going behind closed doors there at Kahuku. Hopefully this does not affect the kids both in the classroom and on the feild.

  7. Northshore August 11, 2015 6:31 pm

    I must agree with you (OahuPuns) about the AD at Kahuku. How the heck did she get the job as the AD is beyond our control. I’ve noticed that she rather be riding her little golf cart to get around and display she’s someone to be recond with. Yes, Kahuku needs to get someone that is truly qualified to be in that capacity as the AD and not someone that rides the golf cart throughout the campus…she needs to get some exercise. And I also agree that Kahuku do have many qualified ex football players that are capable of helping the boys but having said that, regardless if it’s at the JV level, I strongly believe (that’s my opinion) that the selected coaching staff should only be the coaches on the field conducting practices. Too many uninvited coaches causes distraction and confusion. RRFL!!

  8. Reality Check August 12, 2015 7:20 am

    I hear she (Yamagata) has a problem with some of the past Kahuku coaches because of their moral standings. BUT, if anyone doesn’t know Yamagata’s past, in the 90’s she had an affair with Yamagata and they are together til this day.

  9. 88 August 12, 2015 8:35 am

    C’mon now, thats hitting below the belt. We have the benefit of hiding behind these user names when we post but to put something that personal about anybody is wrong.

  10. North Shore Parent August 12, 2015 9:43 am

    I would personally like to applaud Principal Pauline Masaniai for her hard work and dedication. Many people like to comment on the negatives, but non of them have a solution and choose not to help. They instead choose to complain behind a fictitious screen name. This job is challenging especially given the clientele and parents. She is doing a great job and it is starting to show. If you choose to be pessimistic, you can find fault in anyone with any job.

  11. North Shore Parent August 12, 2015 10:31 am

    As an administration you do not need to give everyone who applies an interview. A simple thank you for your interest is what many people get when they apply. You do not need to give them a reason why you are not giving them an interview. @Concerned, do you think every company in the US gives a reason why someone isn’t given an interview? And do you think every company in the US grants an interview to everyone who applies?

    I know alums that applied for the STL Head Basketball Position, the Punahou Girls Head Basketball Position, and several others. They did not get an interview.

    In the hiring process, the selection committee doesn’t even need to really examine an application or resume very well if they do not want to. This has nothing to do with equal opportunity. Everyone has a chance to apply which they did. That is equal.

    I am not sure what world you live in, but nothing unprofessional or unethical has been done here.

  12. salai August 12, 2015 1:46 pm

    These comments have exactly what to do with the article? Good job athletes! Awesome support admin, coaches and families!!! Welcome to the wonderful football world of RR4L…best fans ever, support like no other, where everyone is a coach and a critic…and below the belt is never off limits. Sarcasm aside, many of these posts were really unnecessary. K bye!

  13. Hahashandah August 12, 2015 7:25 pm

    Well, it’s good to see that student athletes are found at Kahuku. I think that with the amount of scholarships these guys are pulling in the kids are finally catching the vision. Kids. It’s all about getting your school paid. Good luck.

    Regarding who the coach is. Hey it’s 2015. Tata is the coach this year so I will support him cause I am an rrfl. If he decides to go then that’s cool to I will support the next coach too.

  14. 008 August 13, 2015 4:40 am

    But really if you look at it, they’re trying to do t h e best for our kids. It’s a change, but a positive one. Let’s stop complaining and support them. They obviously want our kids to succeed in life, to give our kids opportunities that we didn’t have. I’m a proud alumni and see the wisdom in our administration. I know deep in your hearts that they are doing the right thing! Aloha RRFL! !

  15. North Shore Parent August 13, 2015 2:31 pm

    Stop putting down the administration. You do not need to be an alumni to be a coach. The best coaches should be hired regardless of where they came from. Nick Saban went to Kent State and coaches at Alabama. Urban Meyer went to Cincinnati and coaches at Ohio State. Last time I checked they are doing quite well for themselves. It’s this archaic way of thinking that will cripple this community if they only think “Kahuku Alumni” can coach or work here. Anyone can coach or work here.

    Do you think the kids at Kahuku are taught, “You only can go to college down the road or work in this neighborhood?” No, they are taught that there are endless opportunities and go explore and find out what’s out there. And when you are ready go get a career that you are the most qualified for.

    I a tired of heaving people on this blog insult a educator that has given many years to help kids. Do they make mistakes? I am sure they do, but so do the rest of us. And while they are in the trenches trying to make a difference, these complainers are at home on a computer.

  16. Same Ol Same Ol August 13, 2015 9:43 pm


  17. KahukuTITLE_town November 23, 2015 12:44 pm

    Funny how off topic the comments went from the content of the article

  18. PROUDRRFL November 24, 2015 1:33 am

    oh gosh never ending. GET YO LIFE

  19. RR4EVER November 24, 2015 7:48 am

    Are we seriously debating this on this post? Unecessary….ainokan

  20. Mom November 24, 2015 9:35 am

    Way to go Kahuku. Making major strides. To the fools with diarrhea mouth, keep your whining and gossip to yourselves. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

  21. KahukuAlum94 November 24, 2015 7:19 pm

    Nick Abramo, you are wrong in this article. The pride of the north Shore has not always been football. The Pride of the Northshore, refers to Kahuku Marching Band. Under the direction of Michael Payton, and several other band directors (Garrigan, Lum, Pacheco, Taniguchi,, etc) Kahuku Marching Band won more state titles, awards, and accolades than Kahuku Football. Football is only one of the organizations, in our school that is academically successful, and gives us pride.

  22. Red November 25, 2015 10:32 pm

    Reality Check u r an ass….I don’t care much for Yamagata but I have known them personally for years and know that she did NOT cheat with him!!!! No matter how much u dislike someone don’t go around spreading lies. Grow up!!!!!

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