WONG STADIUM – Not many people can brag about having a football field in their front yard, but Brad Kaono, coach of the Hamakua Cougars can do just that.
Kaono is in his sixth year of coaching the West Hamakua Cougars Pee Wee football team and on Sunday they took to the field playing in the Big Island Pop Warner Football Conference Semi Finals Championship.
“I like coaching and I do it for the kids,” Kaono said. “Most of the kids grew up around me and have played football in my front yard as I have a full sized, 120 yard field.”
The Cougars went undefeated during the regular season and on Sunday beat the Wailoa Razorback 14-0, the second seed from East Hawaii, with the winner gaining the opportunity to play for the island championships.
“We did great today and it’s hard for me to acknowledge just one kid as football is a team sport,” Kaono said. “Nobody can do their job without the rest of the team.”
The Cougars scored both of their touchdowns on end around sweeps and they allowed their defense to do the rest in shutting out the Razorbacks.
The Pee Wee division feature kids between the ages of 9 and 12 with a weight limitation of 120 pounds at the beginning of the 10 week season and 130 pounds for the championships.
In the second Pee Wee game it was the Puna Panthers, winners of the East Division, matched against the Westside Eagles the number two seed from the West.
Puna, in their first year of competition under Coach Keven Lee, could not get their offensive moving and were shut out by the Eagles, 16 to 0.
“Our kids came to play today,” Eagles head coach Bo Waite said. “They worked hard on both sides of the ball and played well.”
Waite noted the key play of several of his youngsters as being instrumental to their success.
“Palama Lewis is our workhouse and played both sides of the ball,” Waite said. “Riggs Kurashige also played both offense and defense and is considered our go to guy.”
Waite also had high praise for Hiilawe Manoi who he considers a stud on defense.
“Hiilawe played great at linebacker, but I guess I should be calling her a studette,” Waite said with a wide grin.
Waite also had high praise for the Puna Panthers saying, “they’re a really good team that held us back from scoring. Hats off to them.”
Ten Pee Wee teams from around the island began the season with the top two Westside and top two Eastside teams advancing to the Play Off Semi Final Championships.
“I’ve been doing this for 24 years,” Charles Nahale, Big Island Pop Warner Football President said from the Wong Stadium Press Box.
“Throughout the day we are expecting between 1,500 and 2,000 spectators watching the four games,” Nahale said.
Nahale believes that the biggest challenges he faces each year comes from dealing with the adults.
“I enjoy the kids and the ability to provide a structured program for them to enjoy the sport of football,” he said. “These teams that are playing against each other today did not play each other during the regular season. We’re seeing the best on the Big Island.”
The second half of the day featured games in the Midget Division with the Waiakea Nakoa, winners of the Eastside, going against the number two Westside team, the Kohala Chargers.
Kohala, under coach Clyde Igarashi, came out from the start and poured on the offense on way to defeating Waiakea 34 to 14.
Despite the humid conditions Igarashi’s Chargers were able to mount a full throttled offense in making it to the Midget championship finals.
“We just had to get the feel for the game and once that happened our quarterback, Makani Kualii did the rest,” Igarashi said. “We’re basically a running team and we let our QB call most of the plays himself and our two running backs, Israel Victorino and Willie “Boy” Perez did the rest.”
In the final game of the day it was the Westside top seed, Kailua Raiders, bucking heads against the Eastside second seed in the Wailoa Razorbacks.
Raider’s eighth year head coach, Bryan Ellis, made it a clean sweep for the Westside teams as they rolled over the Razorbacks 22 to 6.
“We scored two touchdowns on deep post pattern plays over the middle,” Ellis said. “The same receiver caught both touchdown passes, Makana Ibanes, and our quarterback, Koa Ellis, ran it in for the other score.”
Pop Warner rules provide two points for the kick after touchdown and two points for a pass after touchdown. Only one point is awarded for a run following touchdown, according to Rules Official, Malia Lewis.
“It’s difficult at this age to kick an a point after touchdown, so we give them two points to encourage special teams to try kicking,” Lewis said.
The Big Island Pop Warner Football Championships will be held on Sunday, Nov. 14, at the Kealakehe High School starting with the Pee Wee Consolation game at 9 am., followed by the Pee Wee Championship Game between the West Hamakua Cougars and the Westside Eagles.
At 1 pm the Midget Consolation game will be held followed by the Midget Championship Game between the Kohala Chargers and the Kailua Raiders.
Gate fee is $3 for those 16 years and older and free to 15 and below.
If Pahoa native Keven Lee gets his way there will be young Panthers coming to his home town within the next few months.
Lee, along with several other key personnel, are looking to bring Pop Warner football back to Pahoa as they try to organize a Mitey Mite and Pee Wee division teams calling themselves the Puna Panthers.
As a youngster Lee played football starting in the mid 1980’s with the Pahoa Raiders Pop Warner organization with his parents Jackie and Kel Lee being instrumental in having the teams succeed.
“When my family decided to relocate to Oahu when I was a teenager the Raiders disappeared too,” Lee said.
Lee moved back to Puna three years ago and realized that there was need for Pahoa youth to be given a chance to play football.
“There are so many good reasons to play organized football in a positive environment and these kids should be afforded the opportunity to do just that,” he said.
A few months ago Lee began talking about the idea of bringing back youth football to Puna with some of his former teammates, friends and family members.
“I decided to petition the Big Island Pop Warner Association and see if Pahoa would be reinstated into the league and be able to compete,” Lee said. “On Nov. 10, 2009 I attended the monthly Pop Warner meeting in Waimea and was accepted membership into the Pop Warner Association.”
For the first time in more than a decade Pahoa will be allowed to field a team and participate annually in the flag and tackle football seasons. Lee has since submitted a letter of intent for the upcoming flag football season which begins in March, followed by the tackle season which will start in August of this year.
“We have not had a team in Pahoa town for at least 15 years,” Big Island Pop Warner Football president Charles Nahale said. “Keven is very positive and forthwith about his commitment to this program and he has good memories of when he was a player and wants to bring that same opportunity back to his home town.”
Lee has formed an Executive Board of Directors which includes his father, Kel Lee, serving as the head of football operations, along with a handful of other residents within the Puna community that serve on the board.
Pahoa resident, Fred Blas, has also joined the group and is pushing hard to bring the sport back into the area.
“Football teaches discipline, respect and promotes good sportsmanship,” Blas said. “We need to provide the opportunity for our youth to enjoy the benefits associated with playing organized football and for their families to get involved.”
More volunteers are need from within the community and Lee and his group and make headway into getting this done.
“At this time I have seven volunteers helping me and I’m in need of all the help I can get,” Lee said.
Another volunteer sitting on the Puna Panthers board is Equipment Manager, Wil Wilson, who also played on the now defunct Pahoa Raiders in the early ‘90’s.
“I have been thinking about starting up a football program in Pahoa for the past several years,” Wilson said. “I even got together with Chris Midel (now serves as vice president) to discuss how we could get this thing going before bumping into Keven (Lee) a few months ago.”
The chance meeting with Lee and Wilson resulted in the board being formed and Lee running with the ball. Since that time the group has obtain their federal nonprofit status and is actively trying to bring football back to Pahoa.
“Some of my fondest memories are of playing Pop Warner football for the Raiders,” Wilson said. “I have a soon to be six year old and I want to afford him the opportunity to play this sport.”
The Mitey Mite team, ages 7-8, and the Pee Wee division, 9-12, will be allowed a maximum of 35 players for each squad and Lee plans on filling both to its limit.
“We won’t have trouble getting the numbers out to play football,” Lee said. “Our biggest obstacle is that we are starting from scratch and there is a large start up cost needed for all the equipment, uniforms, operational costs and league fees.”
Lee sat down with his board to crunch the numbers that were provided from various vendors and believes that to suit up 70 kids to play organized football the cost will be in the neighborhood of $38,000.
Thus far the group has raised $3,075 in private donations and they have a long way to go to turn their dream into reality.
“Besides the money the second part of this obstacle comes with the fact that this is of a time sensitive nature as we need to place the order for equipment and have it shipped to us via barge in enough time to start the season, Lee said.
“Our ultimate goal is to bring football back to Pahoa High School and by starting a Pop Warner program for the younger kids we are forming the base,” Wilson said.
If you would like to volunteer or help with monetary donations you can contact Keven Lee through email at email@example.com or call 443-6586.