It was the best of times.
It was the worst of times.
Fifty high school seniors declared their future plans by signing letters of intent on Wednesday morning in another pristine and beautiful setting at the Honolulu Elks Lodge in Waikiki. That’s the good news.
The bad? This was the final LOI signing event hosted by PIAA, a non-profit organization that will shut its “doors” soon to due a lack of funding.
For now, the overflow crowd at the Elks Lodge, which sits at the foot of Diamond Head, was treated to a memory for life. The 50 student-athletes listed by PIAA — along including the 20 or more who wanted to participate at the last minute — inked their paperwork by 7 a.m. Hawaii time shortly after listening intently to guest speaker Francesca Weems, the former track and field standout from Kealakehe and Cal.
A majority of the signees are volleyball players, along with a mix of basketball, football, softball, soccer and track athletes.
Nikki Lum, a volleyball player from Punahou, signed with West Point. With a 3.6 grade-point average and a family background in the military, aligning with the Cadets seemed a natural fit. It wasn’t exactly automatic, though. For most of her life, she envisioned attending college on the West Coast.
Then came a PIAA volleyball combine held in January of 2015 at Manoa Valley District Park gym. That’s where a coach from West Point saw Lum.
“I did want to go to the West Coast and have a normal college life, but at the combine, the coach gave me the idea. It became, ‘Oh, maybe that’s an option.’ They talked to my parents, too. They were all for it. They know the perks of military life,” Lum said. “It definitely helped that I had grades and scores. I’ve been in contact with them.”
Her father, Ross Lum, worked at Hickam Air Force Base.
“He was in the Army Reserves, too, and he told me his stories and I got interested. I went on my official visit in November and I fell in love with that school,” Lum said. “The future and the education I’ll receive are really exceptional. It’s a guaranteed job at the end of it.
She intends to study psychology or business before attending medical school. Paging Dr. Lum?
“I want to do maybe more surgery-type stuff,” she said.
Not every high school student-athlete is prepared for the grind of military life, waking up at 5 a.m. daily.
“I’ve been training for that, getting up early,” she said.
Another volleyball player, Arendia Ruiter of Moanalua, found the ideal setting at Concordia College Chicago. The Division III program is situated on one square block in River Forest, a suburb of Chicago. With an interest in marketing and multi-media, the 5-10 outside hitter/opposite was determined to attend college in Chicago or New York.
“I love Chicago. I love the city. It’s nice and cold,” she said. “Something different. Four seasons. It’s a small private school with only 2,000 kids, so it’s like high school and I get to know everybody. It’s really close to the city and has great internships, so I’m really excited.
She plans to double major in business and communications with a double minor in graphic and digital arts.
Standing apart were some football players. Among them were Iosefa Ameperosa of Kahuku and Kana‘i Eldredge of Punahou. Ameperosa signed with Iowa Western.
“I’m going there with my best friend,” he said, pointing to Punahou volleyball player Kaleialoha Pua‘a.
Eldredge, an offensive lineman, signed with Southern Utah.
“It’s a great campus in a nice, little town. I’m going to enjoy it the next few years,” he said.
Small colleges like Menlo were prominent on this day with multiple signees: Sierra Buscher and Emily Sunada of ‘Iolani (volleyball), and Noa Kerr of Hawaii Baptist (soccer).
“It’s really small, but I liked it,” Buscher said of her visit.
“I loved it. It’s a really nice area and the people are super nice,” Sunada said.
Roosevelt volleyball player Kylee Kaaihue signed with Blinn, one of the most successful junior college programs in the country.
“I didn’t get to visit, but I had a talk with the coach,” she said. “They’re very family-oriented. I have family there on my mom’s side.”
University High School was well represented. With one of the smaller enrollments in the islands, three Junior Rainbows signed: Taira Ka‘awaloa (Irvine Valley, beach volleyball), Gabrielle Lau (Linfield, volleyball), Erin Moss (Western New Mexico, volleyball), Nohealani Ornellas (UH-Hilo, volleyball), Brazzlyn Tovio-Asato (Hawaii Pacific, softball) and Karley Ann Yoshioka (Clark, softball).
“I visited (Irvine) and I love it,” Ka‘awaloa said.
“My sister (Samantha Lau) went there and I really like the campus,” Lau said of Linfield.
“We have some good sports going on (at University High),” Yoshioka said.
Four Leilehua seniors also signed: Tywanna Abbott (Lower Columbia, basketball), Regina Dela Cruz (Mesa Community College, basketball), Chelsea Lobitos (West Alabama, softball) and Courtney Tabion (Oregon Tech, golf).
“They’re a great school,” Abbott said of the community college in Washington state. “I know they were second in their conference.”
Dela Cruz is ready for a move to Arizona.
“They made the championship one year and I’m hoping we’re a contender,” Dela Cruz said. “My dad lives there, so I’ll be living with him. I’ll have a car to drive.”
Punahou all-state basketball player Tyra Moe signed with CSU Eastbay.
“It’s in Northern California. My visit was good. I loved it,” Moe said.
Le Jardin was represented by volleyball player Taylor Souza, who signed with Linfield.
“I’m excited for our (Le Jardin) team next year. There are a lot of Hawaii kids at Linfield,” said Souza, who plans to major in environmental sciences.
Kapolei’s Shaycelynn Hoohuli is one of three players from the Mililani Prep softball club who signed with Midland College (Texas).
“I’m excited. We visited in February. It’s a good community,” Hoohuli said.