By Paul Honda
The view isn’t common to visitors.
No, the typical images of Hawaii transported via Hawaii 5-0, postcards of Diamond Head and the sounds of Don Ho won’t show anyone what Kalei Adolpho sees.
From hilly Hoolehua, not far from Molokai High School, a view of the south shore is pristine. It’s the shoreline that includes a precious reef that has sustained residents for millennia, providing some of the sweetest seafood anywhere. But Adolpho wasn’t looking at her destination, Kaunakakai, with thoughts of swimming or diving.
Nine-year-old Kalei had her Nikes on, and the six-mile trek downhill from the tree lines to the ocean was about running. Kalei followed the heels of older brother Manu, not to become the next Steve Prefontaine or win gold medals or churn out record times. All seven Adolpho keiki ran because daddy, Carl, said to.
“My dad played basketball and volleyball. When we were smaller, it was, ‘You have to run.’ Then when you’re older, it’s just something you do,” she said. “It makes everything easier.”
Across the street from the Adolpho hale, a cow grazes on a pasture and a goat occasionally glances at Kalei. She stretches for just a minute and takes off at a very un-Usain Bolt speed.
“I do the whole thing at a slow pace,” she said.
Corn fields line Kamehameha Highway, then there’s mostly empty space. Occasionally, neighbors and friends drive by, honk and wave, but mostly there’s no more thinking. She’s in a zone until she nears town and stops at the harbor, where her parents pick her up.
“I like the easy pace. It’s like meditation,” she said. “But competitive running? It’s work. Racing is hard.”
Killer instinct? Not always, but there might not be a sweeter teammate and friend, not just on the Friendly Island, but all the islands.
“She has a funny laugh. It’s goofy,” friend and teammate Jaime Duvauchelle said.
Adolpho finds live entertainment in Duvauchelle and another two-sport teammate, Danna-Lynn Hooper-Juario.
“Jaime is smart-aleck funny. Danna is just goofy and out of the blue. Wacky funny,” she said.
With teammates like that and a huge family at home, it’s no wonder Adolpho likes her team sports.
IT’S BEEN A YEAR since Kalei, now a 16-year-old junior, put on the running shoes and hit the pavement. The days of practicing volleyball, then running three miles on her own — when she was part of the cross country team — are history. She still does some high jumping on the track team, but her world involves basketball and volleyball most of the time.
As a sophomore last winter, the 6-foot-1 center led Molokai to its first team girls basketball state championship. The Farmers swept University, Kapaa and Kamehameha-Hawaii for the Division II crown as Adolpho seized opportunity. She considered her first game a disappointment — nine points — in terms of intensity. So, she ravaged Kapaa with 16 points, 25 rebounds and seven blocks, with just one foul — knocking out a team that had shocked Kahuku the night before.
In the final, Adolpho logged 32 minutes in a 21-point, 19-rebound, five-block effort against KS-Hawaii. Her presence forced the Warriors to think long ball, and they shot just 28 percent from the field with Adolpho’s long arms and quick feet covering the paint. She shot 9-for-11 from the floor and Molokai pulled out a 45-42 title win.
Considered more of a volleyball player before the season, a lot of eyes opened at the sight of Molokai’s agile shotblocker. She still loves volleyball — the Farmers traveled and played in the Ann Kang Invitational last week — but basketball is right there, too.
She spent a month on Oahu during the summer, staying with the family of HHSAA executive director Keith Amemiya, so she could work out on her hoop skills four times a week.
“I have to start playing bigger people, better people, so I can get better,” Adolpho said. “I wish I could’ve gotten more practice with volleyball.”
She says she never got homesick, but might have missed her six brothers and sisters more than expected.
“My family, it’s hectic and loud. There (with the Amemiyas), it’s quiet like a regular family,” said Adolpho, who went to church each week.
“I knew my dad would ask,” she said.
It takes much to raise the ire of Kalei. A flat performance to start the state basketball tourney lit a fire; she was tenacious the rest of the way, earning most outstanding player honors. At the Ann Kang Invitational last week, she played at higher level after the Farmers hit the skids, pounding the ball with a college-level explosion.
It’s just an uncommon view — a 6-1 female sports standout from a tiny, quiet place almost off the grid. Kalei Adolpho is just starting to pick up the pace.
ISOLATION HAS ITS PERKS, but the Farmers are the only high school on the island, so they travel more than any athletic program in the state. During the Ann Kang tourney, Adolpho made an unofficial visit to the University of Hawaii, where volleyball coach Dave Shoji and basketball coach Dana Takahara-Dias welcomed her. Shoji had watched Molokai play Punahou earlier in the tourney. Takahara-Dias already knew Adolpho; she was Team Aloha’s coach before taking the UH job. Adolpho was one of the few neighbor islanders to make that elite traveling team.
Basketball and volleyball are at the heart of a potential dilemma for her, but time is on her side. She might be too busy to fret about the future. Adolpho is the sergeant-at-arms for the school’s student executive board.
“I used to be a class officer,” she said. “I have an easy job. Put up the flag on Fridays and make sure the meetings are orderly. Joey (Duvauchelle) is the president. She’s funny. She makes everybody laugh.”
There’s also Leo Club, the high school version of Lions Club. That keeps members busy with campus cleanups, eyeglass projects for Third World nations, Halloween contests and anything else they’re asked to do.
Then there’s the traveling, an unavoidable task whether it’s state-tourney time or Maui Interscholastic League play.
The basketball raised enough money to make two preseason trips to Oahu last season, then came back for the state tourney. This year’s volleyball team roughed it by staying in Kamehameha’s gym — they brought air mattresses on the road — and making almost all its meals. For most teens, cooking is at the opposite end of fun activities like texting and gaming. The Farmers, though, thrive on homemade meals.
They have breakfast burritos down to a science — scrambled eggs with mushrooms, cheese, sour cream and salsa — thanks to a recipe from coach Matt Helm’s wife, Erika. They also make chili almost from scratch, including bacon and brown sugar in the recipe. There’s also venison marinated in homemade teriyaki sauce, just one of the bonuses of being from Molokai.
“A lot of these girls are used to it already,” said assistant coach Kim Helm, cousin of Matt Helm. “A lot of them play club (volleyball), so they travel and know how to cook. This is the first time I didn’t have to monitor them in the kitchen.”
Adolpho and her teammates don’t miss much by eating in.
“If you eat fast food every weekend, it’s expensive and it’s kind of junk,” she said. “This saves money and the food is better. It’s fun cooking with your teammates.”
Helm spent 12 years on the mainland before returning to the island. Now a counselor at the high school, he considers Molokai the only place to raise his family.
“When I was dating Erika, before we got married, I told her I was going to come back to Molokai,” he said.
Creativity, he notes, is a necessity.
“We want them to broaden their minds. They can get a degree online, but the one thing we can’t teach is the actual life experience,” Helm said.
The pull to go home, though, is undeniable.
“You can’t put a price tag on Molokai. There is no price for Molokai. The main thing is get educated with the kids. Molokai teaches you how to be creative. You don’t have jobs, but you still survive,” he said. “We don’t want the buildings, the windmills. It’s a great idea, but we’re not getting any of the energy; it would all go to Oahu. The tourist ships, those would’ve messed up the reef. The fishing is our life.”
Helm, of course, comes from a family with activist roots, especially with uncle George Helm. With volleyball, which he played at the University of La Verne, things are simpler.
“All the girls, in one way or another, their family roots are very strong on Molokai. They’re going to grow up and develop their own minds. I don’t want to influence their thinking,” he said.
They’re young, but the treks to Oahu reveal much to the Farmers.
“On Molokai, everybody knows each other. If you need a ride, everybody picks you up,” setter Kawena Puhi said.
Hooper-Juario has traveled more than most of her teammates.
“The beaches (on Molokai) are never full. No traffic, not one traffic light,” she said.
Molokai, like Oahu’s North Shore and the Big Island’s Ka‘u district, has steered most development — and jobs — far away.
“It’s complicated,” Adolpho said. “You have positives and negatives for everything. You can’t have everything, a better lifestyle, without the jobs. I wouldn’t mind living there (Molokai) after college, but I’m not set on living there. I’m open to a lot of different things. I would like my kids raised like I was, close as a family. Being on Oahu, it’s hard to do that. There’s so much stuff to do.”
Hooper-Juario, a playmaking point guard on the basketball team, is ready for the next level.
“Hopefully, you’ll get off the island and go to college. It seems like we all have the ability to go out and be somebody in life. And maybe we can.”
For Molokai’s teams, all the cost-cutting, money-saving skills are essential in a way that student-athletes at some other schools never have to think about.
“One of the ways you travel from Molokai is athletics,” Matt Helm said. “You get out to different islands and get exposed to different things. Molokai has a lot to offer. That’s the special part of Molokai: real people, real stuff. The community comes around. It’s not called the Friendly Isle for nothing.”
THAT SPIRIT CAN BE contagious. Amemiya, who saw the sacrifice and dedication of Adolpho first-hand, was more than impressed. After the state cut $1.2 million from athletic departments statewide, he and wife Bonny donated $15,000 to help Molokai with its huge travel expenses.
“I always knew that we didn’t have money, or barely making it there,” Adolpho said. “Then it’s, ‘Oh, this is serious.”
The state’s cuts would’ve meant little or no money left by the end of the school year for athletes.
“If (spring) sports are losing money, then what about the following year?” she said.
It’s all enough, possibly, to create a sense of urgency in Molokai’s athletes. When nothing comes easy, winning championships — the volleyball team won the Maui Interscholastic League Division II crown last year — are even better. As a cost-cutting measure, the MIL eliminated the post-season playoff tournament, which means state-tournament berths will be determined solely by regular-season play.
Helm knew his team needed competition at the highest level.
“That’s why we’re here,” he said of the Ann Kang Invitational, where his team played a slew of D-I powerhouses like Punahou, Kahuku and Moanalua. The Farmers also played D-II state contenders Word of Life and Kaiser, plus mainland teams Mater Dei and Edison. In all, they went 2-7 and showed flashes of potential.
“We know we’ve progressed the last few days. We know we have to work on stuff: our communication, our coverage and consistency,” Helm said.
Maturity covers those bases. Bonny Amemiya saw that in Adolpho during the summer.
“She’s more mature than most 30-year-olds,” Bonny said.
Adolpho smiled when she heard that.
“Oh wow,” she said. “The whole traveling thing helps. You have to take care of your own stuff. It teaches you to be responsible and take care of yourself. The coaches are going to get tired of taking care of you. My freshman year, we had really good seniors. Being around more mature people makes you more mature.”
Helm says the best is yet to come for Adolpho.
“At first, I don’t think she could grasp the concept of college ball and what it takes to get to that level, what is expected. But she’s seeing the light and she’s grasping the concept,” he said. “She knows her potential now.”
The running jaunts from Hoolehua to town can wait. Adolpho can see the possibility that she might never run the route again. But she thinks about her younger sisters and brothers — Paka, 14, hits the road often — and the idea of running with them does just one thing.
It makes Kalei smile.