April 7, 1928: Hilo’s greatest athlete of the 1920s was ‘useless’

James Puuohao, second from left, was one of Hilo's greatest athletes.

People can debate great players and teams across eras all they want, but there is no debate that the older generations had the best nicknames.

Hilo’s James “Useless” Puuohau was undeniably one of the greatest athletes in the entire history of the Big Island. It was his moniker, which he kept throughout his athletic career, that stood out the most. He was referred to as “useless” by newspapers as much as his first name was used.

On this day in 1928, Puuohau beat the mark in the 440 by a full two seconds and Hilo beat the town’s track and field team in the annual competition between the two. Puuohau also won the 100 yards.

He was anything but useless for the Vikings’ athletic department. Puuohau was the starting quarterback for the football team, played basketball and was a sought after paddler and swimmer. He even won a tennis tournament in his sophomore year.

Puuohau hurt his knee in a football game in his senior year and never fully recovered. He was a star on defense for the freshman and was one of the UH track and field team’s best sprinters as a senior.

Puuohau died in 1986.


  1. Lowtone123 April 8, 2020 12:28 pm

    Nicknames were very common back in the day. Would have been helpful if the article mentioned how “Useless” came to get his nickname.

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