Al Chee spent 16 years as a high school wrestling coach, when, right around the turn of the century, he decided to focus on raising his own family.
That latter job is never done, but he does have a bit more time now. So, Chee is back in the mix in Hawaii wrestling and is now in the middle of his second year as Saint Louis’ head coach.
“Saint Louis has a powerful wrestling tradition,” Chee said during Friday night’s Interscholastic League of Honolulu dual meets at Mid-Pacific. “Two of the four-time state champion wrestlers are from Saint Louis. The program started to sag and we’re trying to revive it.”
He was referring to the Crusaders’ Jonathan Spiker, who won state titles from 2000 to ’04, and Brandon Low, who did the trick from 2003 to ’06. Only four others have done it.
Saint Louis has four state team championships to its credit, in 2001 and ’02 under Todd Los Banos and in 1972 and ’73 under James Dainty.
Chee has noticed that wrestling has come a long, long way since he led Kamehameha to state titles in 1997 and ’98 and was on Palani Williams’ staff for a third straight state crown in ’99.
“The ILH used to have a big advantage because of their intermediate program,” Chee said. “Now, there is so much more club wrestling. Kids are starting a lot younger now and the public schools have gained a lot of ground. The lighter weight classes all have really experienced wrestlers and excellent competition. If you go to the clubs, you see a lot of the smaller kids there. The bigger kids are all playing Big Boyz football or Pop Warner.”
Chee is counting on the brothers Cabanban to make some noise this season. Sophomore Corey Cabanban defeated Kaua Nishigaya 5-4 of ‘Iolani on Friday at 113, and senior Cody Cabanban dropped a 6-4 decision to the Raiders’ Colby Watase at 120.
Corey Cabanban, the defending state and ILH champion at 106 who is No. 7 in the Honolulu’s Star-Advertiser’s pound-for-pound rankings, is loving where the team is headed.
“We have a lot of younger wrestlers, mostly sophomores and juniors guys who are in their first and second years of the sport,” said Cabanban, who also won at the Officials meet in December. “But we have a chance to do well and we’ve got a great coaching staff. Coach Al Chee is really trying to bring up the program.”
Cody Cabanban placed second at states in 2014, but suffered a concussion in his first match at states last year.
Dominic Tominiko at 220 and Kaimana Young at 195 are among the other Crusaders to watch for. Tominiko was fifth and Young placed sixth at Officials.
“We’re focusing on the basics,” Chee said. “A basic, solid foundation. Even in college, they’re not doing anything fancy.”