VIDEO: Champion Lunas celebrate quietly, loudly

Every time I come across these Lahainaluna Lunas, they do something magical.

Some might call it surreal. Blissful. Spiritual. When I saw them hang on to win at Konawaena last week, they handled victory with respect and humility. Konawaena’s football ohana fed the Lunas after the game, long after the large crowd had emptied out of Julian Yates Field on a cool night in Kealakekua. Before eating, the Lunas all stood and thanked their hosts by singing. It was solemn and enlightening. After they finished their kaukau, before they left, they sang another song for their friends who had cooked the food, served their meal. Each song in Hawaiian.

Tonight, a week later, the same Lunas entered Aloha Stadium and did the unexpected. They won their first Division II football state championship, hanging on (again) for a 21-14 win over top-seeded Kapaa. After the game, moments after they sang their alma mater and the Doxology to their fans in the bleachers, they retreated to the lockerroom and broke into song again. That’s when I realized I had a video camera on me. And longtime co-head coaches Bobby Watson and Garret Tihada, and their staff could only stop, remain still and become engulfed by a season-long, life-long tradition of the football program at the oldest high school west of the Rockies (if I remember right). The Lunas were captivating in many ways this season, but it has often been that way since Tihada, and long before that, Watson, have been at the helm.

When I first met Coach Watson, it was around 1999 or 2000 and Lahainaluna had no stadium, not much parking and, very, very rarely, a home game. What the Lunas had was unbreakable tradition and discipline. Watson had already been long entrenched as the Lunas’ football coach, preaching and teaching the sport without compromise. Kaniela Tuipulotu was a svelte and gifted running back/tight end on the practice field, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound freshman, long before he transferred to Kahuku and went on to play defensive line at UH. Watson hasn’t budged, and neither has Tihada, over the years when it comes to bedrock-solid traditions and values as a team, as a school, as a community. More and more Lunas prospered on the gridiron and in the classroom, qualifying for college and continuing their playing careers. Big-time prospects, like Hercules Mata’afa (Oregon State) no longer feel the need to leave to get more exposure.

Coming into the universe of Lunas football is a bit of a time warp, maybe. But that, in today’s mad, mad world, is a very good thing, and it wasn’t hard to feel good for both Lahainaluna and Kapaa programs as they played for the title. Division II is alive and well, and tonight it showed fans the best of what football is about.

“It’s about hard work and old-fashioned country values,” Watson said, off camera. He never liked the camera. I don’t blame anyone for that.

Tihada is as consistent and unbending as Watson when it comes to the Lahainaluna standard. After three previous trips to the championship game, the fourth time did the trick.

“It’s great, but it’s all those other things, working out at 6 in the morning all off-season, trying to be good people throughout the year, making sacrifices, that’s the main thing. If you win a championship, it means nothing without that,” he said.

In an age when the easy way out is considered normal, when most young people don’t see any value in sweat, blood and sacrifice, the work being done at Lahainaluna — enrollment 900 — goes against the tide. Congratulations to the Lunas, Warriors and all our Division II brethren. Roots football might just be the best football there is.

Lahainaluna co-head coach Bobby Watson soaks it in minutes after the Lunas won their first state championship.
Lahainaluna co-head coach Bobby Watson soaks it in minutes after the Lunas won their first state championship.

2016 HHSAA Football Division II State Championship:  Lahainaluna vs. Kapaa


  1. f milo November 19, 2016 7:23 am

    Congrats to da Lunas, they finally get one…..time to go up to D1.

  2. Big Red! November 19, 2016 8:29 am

    Awesome! Congratulations to the Lunas on their victory. Chicken skin moment, I love it ! Go Big Red! Cheehuu

  3. Manley November 19, 2016 11:46 am

    Correction Paul, Hercules Mataafa is at Washington State. Lol, on Coach Tihada’s post game interview saying he thanks Iolani for not being in the D2.

  4. Mitch Davis November 19, 2016 2:57 pm

    Great write up on the Lunas. Also, class act on coach Rapozo from Kapa’a in talking to the Luna boys post game! As for coach Watson, great to see him still doing his thing (I was under his helm as a 4-year boarder, 82-86)! IMUA LUNAS… for LIFE!

  5. Jen November 19, 2016 3:40 pm

    This is one of the most well disciplined and humble football programs in the State of Hawaii. Very good coaching staff and kids. Mahalo coach Watson and staff! Imua Lunas you make Maui proud

  6. Gokada November 19, 2016 7:45 pm

    Proud to be a Luna (boarder) alumnus. Proud to see that our great traditions and values are being perpetuated.

  7. Grateful November 19, 2016 8:48 pm

    As a former graduate of Lahainaluna, I am deeply humbled and full of appreciation for the hard work and dedication of our State Champs of 2016!! The coaches, players, and the community are to be highly commended for the camaraderie and teamwork displayed throughout the season and especially during the playoffs! As an alumni of this great school, I am elated at the way they handled themselves during and after the championship game. Coach Watson and Coach Tihada are excellent coaches and their players are terrific examples of what a high school team is all about!! Imua, Lunas! Congratulations on bringing home the championship to Lahaina town!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Star-Advertiser's TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, email