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  • Ednold

King Kekaulike 10/22/22

Updated: Oct 26, 2022

This week we didn't head “up into the mountains” to watch a football game. We headed up THE mountain to watch a game. It’s just one giant mountain, and we would be watching a game on its western slope in the town of Pukalani.

In another first here at CPHC, we decided to attend a football game outside the state of Oregon this week. When my friend, Gonzo Dave, invited us to spend some time with him and his wife Lynne at their pad in Hawaii, I explained to him that it was the middle of football season and I could not possibly get away from my all-important CPHC duties. Sand and palm trees are nice, but these football games don’t watch themselves, and I have a good half-dozen people counting on a story each week. After a great deal of haggling, Dave finally allowed that I could attend a Hawaiian high school football game if I would agree to have several drinks on the old Lahaina waterfront, do some snorkeling on the most gorgeous beach I’ve ever seen, serve as a guest member of his outrigger paddling team, eat a bunch of fresh pineapple right off the bush, and several other unpleasant tasks I would never have considered doing under normal circumstances. It hardly seemed a fair exchange, and it took a lot of arm-twisting to get Mrs. Ednold to go along, but I was willing to do just about anything to get to a football game, so the deal was done and off we went to Maui.

One reason I was willing to go along with this scheme is that one of my favorite guys, Samuel Clemens, had spent some time on the island and I welcomed the chance to see some of the places he had been. Sam visited the Hawaiian Islands, or the Sandwich Islands, as they were known at the time, in 1866 and, for better or worse, probably nobody is more responsible for advertising their potential as business and tourism destinations in North America. He put them on the map, in a figurative way, and at the same time they, and the stories he told about them, put him on the map as an author. During his trip to the islands he went to Maui for a week and ended up staying for five, during which he didn’t write at all. “I had a jolly time. I would not have fooled away any of it writing letters under any consideration whatever.” I didn’t follow his example and I did fool some of my time away, but I really like how he used the pen name Mark Twain, and I'm thinking of coming up with one of those for myself. I feel like having a name like Ednold is really holding me back as an author.

Mark Twain didn’t mention it, but I’m pretty sure I can’t be the first person to notice the similarity between the geography of Maui and a woman’s bust. I’m the only person who’s ever had that thought? Sure. Whatever. Maui is known as the Valley Isle, but I think of it as the Cross-Your-Heart Isle. The island is comprised of two old volcanoes, Mauna Kahalawai, better known as West Maui Mountain, in the northwest and Haleakala on the eastern side. West Maui Mountain erupted first and was by itself for a while, but when Haleakala erupted later, the lava flows from each volcano overlapped to create the low-lying area between them, joining the two into one island. The summit of Haleakala, (which means "House of the Sun") is over 10,000 feet above sea level and the West Maui summits are about half that, creating an asymmetrical bosom, but that isn’t too uncommon. Or so I’ve been told.

For our football game we would be traveling a few miles up the right side of Maui’s left breast to King Kekaulike High School on the western flank of Haleakala. King Kekaulike, located in the town of Pukalani, was named for the founder of Maui’s last ruling dynasty and opened in September 1995. It graduated its first class in 1999 from a student body of around 1,300. In addition to winning a state football championship in 2006, they also won the state Mixed Canoe Paddling championship in 2004. For real. How cool is that?

The Hawaiian name Pukalani means "window of heaven", and its position on the mountainside means that clouds form above and below the community, often leaving Pukalani sunny even when surrounding areas are not. Its elevation also makes it a little cooler than the lowlands in Maui's cleavage, making for a cool and comfortable gametime temperature in the upper 60s. That elevation also makes the stadium lights visible from 15 miles away, or farther. The four banks of stadium lights are some of the brightest I've ever seen, and long before we began our ascent up the hillside we could see the lights beckoning, and we followed Highway 37 up into Maui's cowboy country toward them. We found the school entrance from the highway in north Pukalani and pulled in to find a huge parking lot complete with attendants waving lighted wands to point us in the direction of an empty space. This was going to be a little bigger deal than I had expected.

We followed the signs and the crowd north along a little path between the tennis courts and an impressively large Performing Arts building and encountered the ticket booth under a black and teal King Kekaulike tent. A few signs outside informed us that all we needed to do to get in was scan a QR code, purchase our tickets in the online app, and show them to the folks in the tent. Of course, it wasn't as easy as they made it sound, and the whole idea that people who use real money shouldn't be allowed to watch a football game is ridiculous, but we were eventually admitted and went off to find some of the fast-disappearing empty seats.

The entry is at the top of the large concrete grandstands, with the artificial turf field and running track on the plateau at the bottom. We went about halfway down one of the middle aisles and found our spots on one of the aluminum benches, with the band and students to our far right and the visiting fans to our far left. There must have been a few thousand people in attendance, and without any seating on the far side of the field there were few empty seats in the grandstand. But, despite there being no signs or barriers, nobody attempted to go down on the track surrounding the field to watch the game from that vantage point. Either everyone knew that the track was out of bounds, or it never occurred to them that that might be a good place to watch the game, or they just preferred the camaraderie of a seat in the stands. I didn't know, and I didn't want to jeopardize my own access by asking too many questions.

Due to the obvious challenges involved in arranging competition among more than 50 schools of various sizes, spread across six different islands, the Hawaiian High School Athletic Association (HHSAA) system works a little differently than the OSAA classification system. The island of Oahu has two leagues, and each of the other three counties has their own league. The schools in each league belong to one of four classifications based on size, but the teams play all of the other schools in their league regardless of classification. Based on their performance throughout the season, the teams are ranked and the top six schools from each classification compete in a playoff to determine a champion. The exceptions to all of this are the four 8-man teams in the Maui league, who don’t need a playoff to determine a champion, and the Open Division, which only has four teams in their playoffs.

Until relatively recently, high school football teams in Hawaii didn’t play for a state championship, though beginning in 1973 the top teams from each of Oahu’s two leagues played each other at the end of each season in an unofficial championship game. A Division I championship was held for the first time in 1999, and a Division II championship was added in 2003. A new division, the Open Division, was created in 2016 for Oahu’s ten biggest schools, and they now play for their own championship. Our game would feature two teams from the Maui League from different classes, and this would be the regular season finale for both of them. The visitors from Lahainaluna were coming in undefeated at 8-0 and ranked 5th out of 17 Division I schools in the state. Lahainaluna High School is located in Lahaina on the west side of the island. It's been around since 1831, and provides boarding services for students from other islands and distant parts of Maui. The Lunas reached the Division II championship game in 2007, 2012 and 2014, losing each time, before winning four straight championships from 2016-2019. They’ve moved up to the Division I level where they had to settle for runners-up last season, but were in line for a playoff spot this year if they could win this game. King Kekaulike won a championship of their own in their lone appearance in the Division II title game in 2006. This season, at 3-5, the Na Ali'i (Chiefs or Princes) were ranked 9th out of 20 Division II schools coming into this game and would have a difficult time claiming a playoff spot even with a defeat of the mighty Lunas.

After a unique rendition of the Star Spangled Banner by a female soloist, the proceedings took on a distinct island flavor. Another female soloist sang an unidentifiable (to me) second anthem in Hawaiian, followed by each of the football teams separately facing the crowd, joining hands, and singing their alma maters. This wasn't just a bunch of big, sweaty guys bellowing a fight song: It was a choir singing in harmony led, in the case of the Lunas, by three of their teammates acting as conductors. I don't know what they were singing, but they were both good and I'd never seen anything like it, and don't expect to again.

Unfortunately for the Na Ali'i, things went downhill pretty quickly after that. Lahainaluna is in a different classification for a reason, and they're also undefeated for a reason. The Lunas' ran a multiple-option running offense that took full advantage of their superior size and speed to open up a 21-0 lead by the end of the first quarter, and things looked bleak for the home team. Things also looked pretty bleak for Gonzo Dave and me when we decided this would be a good time for us to check out the concessions and grab a bite to eat.

The line for the one little concession stand stretched on forever, but we didn't know quite how long it was because it was like one of those lines at Disneyland: Engineered to give you hope that you may reach your destination before the game was over, without allowing you to see exactly what you were up against. But I'd never been to a game where a Kalua Pork Plate Meal was on the menu, and that's not an opportunity I was willing to pass up, even if it meant missing a large chunk of the game. So we waited. And waited. We were able to keep up with the action on the field somewhat by listening to the announcer, but it almost made things worse to know what we were missing. We discovered that the area at the top of the stands between the press box and the concession stand is the social hot spot for many of the students and younger fans who were concerned with more important things than football, such as acting like teenagers. That probably didn't actually make the wait any longer, but it sure made it less pleasant.

It goes without saying that when it was finally our turn to tell the lady what we wanted, all of the pork plates were gone, so we grabbed some nachos and hot dogs and made our way back to our seats just as the first half of play expired. Though the nachos were a few steps above what you'd normally expect at a football game, the hot dogs were nothing special, and the scoreboard now read 35-7 in favor of Lahainaluna. Those of us rooting for the Na Ali'i needed a little something to boost our spirits, so it was fortuitous that our first homecoming game of the season happened at this farthest of places from home.

As the homecoming court assembled on the far side of the field, I was a little surprised to see that it included at least one of the football players. Nui Crozier hadn't played the last few games due to injury, but was suited down for this game to provide some encouragement to his teammates. And now here he was, all 410 pounds of him, having exchanged his shoulder pads and helmet for a white shirt, bare feet and a haku lei. He and the rest of the court danced what us mainlanders would call a hula dance, though I'm sure that's not technically the correct term, and then they exited the field without any coronation ceremony that I was aware of. The cheerleaders also took the field and did a more conventional dance, and there was some other homecoming-related stuff, but the traditional dancing by the court was the highlight, and it was hard to care much about the rest after seeing Nui and Friends do their thing.

In fact, it would have been kind of nice if the whole thing had ended on that high note, but the Na Ali'i still had another half of football to play. The Lunas almost immediately used their running game to extend the lead to 42-7, and if the game hadn't been beyond reach before, it certainly was after that. The game clock ran continuously for the last quarter and a half, and the Na Ali'i band continued to play and the cheerleaders and their followers kept cheering and finally the Na Ali'i quarterback had a spectacular long run in the fourth quarter to enable his team to score a second touchdown, so things could have been worse. But the 42-14 final score meant the Na Ali'i would not be moving up into a playoff position while the still-undefeated Lunas will have almost a full month off before playing a first round game against an as-yet-undetermined team.

And with that, we joined the line of cars heading back down the side of the mountain to the more populous areas below. We had seen our first high school football game outside of Oregon and we'd gotten to second base with the island of Maui at the same time. As Mark Twain might have said if he'd attended a King Kekaulike football game, "I never spent so pleasant an evening before, or bade any place goodbye so regretfully. I not once thought of business, or care or human toil or trouble or sorrow or weariness, and the memory of it will remain with me always.”

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