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 firstname.lastname@example.org or call 443-6586.