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Kalani Simpson

Sunday, April 11, 2004


Yamauchi remembers
barefoot football fondly


"My brother Shotei graduated Maui High School June '37. He was a rebel and was allowed to graduate after being pardoned by the principal, Mr. Carter, for swearing at the orchestra teacher."
-- Hiroshi Yamauchi


HIROSHI Yamauchi is 71 now, a retired professor from UH, and he loves history, all kinds. Hawaiian history. Everything. He's done lots of work with the Hawaii Swimming Legacy Project, keeping stories alive.

But it is in these last few years, and now in his retirement to Oregon, where he lives with his daughter's family, that other stories have captured his imagination. A more personal history. More people to talk to, more stuff to study. Something else to write down before it is lost.

It is of the time just before his time, when his old hometown, Haiku, Maui, was in its glory days as a center of agriculture and sports.

And especially the stories his kolohe big brother still tells him, of being a kid when the pineapple cannery was bustling. And of playing barefoot football -- in those days when playing without shoes was not only organized, but big time -- for the team that won it all as Hawaii territorial champions.

"It was 'Kauge' Ah Sui that made all the difference. He was the coach for Haiku. They called him 'Kauge' for 'cock-eyed.' You couldn't tell where he was looking at and he never missed a thing."

IT IS DIFFICULT to grasp the phenomenon of barefoot football when we weren't there to see it. It was a town thing. A camp thing. A pride thing.

And it was a rough thing. Shotei once took a knee to the chest "and couldn't swallow his saliva."

There were few high school teams on Maui in those days, and Maui High had a tough time getting the Haiku kids to come out because they were all playing barefoot ball instead. It was bigger. It was better. It meant more.

Maybe it's best explained that everybody knows that for decades -- the golden age, from the '40s through the '70s -- high school football was much bigger in Hawaii than University of Hawaii football was.

And before that, in many parts of the state, there was barefoot football.

It was in these days, in 1937 and 1938, that Haiku once won more than 20 games straight.

"Seraphin was not only Shotei's teammate, he was also a close friend of our father, Ole Man Jiji. They worked together at the Libby Cannery and compared notes on how to raise pigs."

HAIKU HAD THE athletes in those days. Characters, guys with names like Bull Inciong (one of several brothers, one of whom, David, not only played football but was the Future Farmers of America public speaking champion of Hawaii). And Red Matsunaga. And Moon Ah Sui, and Pookii Iwamoto, and African Shinyama, a triple-threat, to name a few.

Seraphin Dias, the star receiver, would go on to box the great Frankie Fernandez, who died recently.

And there was some guy remembered only as Kamisato, "strong like a sumotori."

Shotei, an end, was the scrappy kid of the team.

And the coach, Kauge Ah Sui, was like Lombardi. "He seemed to know everything. He was a great coach, strict disciplinarian, fair and everybody respected him," said Hiroshi, the historian, who was a toddler at the time.

"The crucial moment had arrived. It was their last chance and the sinners had to make atonement."

THEY ROLLED. This team had something special. They were more than just good. They had what Shotei tells his brother is the "Haiku spirit."

But then Coach Ah Sui was snapped up in the middle of the 1938 season, tapped to start a new program at St. Anthony High School.

And two stars, Henry Inciong and African Shinyama, were suspended.

"They were like the pro football stars today, messing around with girls during the off-practice hours," Hiroshi Yamauchi explained.

The new coach, Pete St. Sure, was liked by all. But that's only half the package. Ah Sui had also had the iron fist.

It was in the midst of all this that Haiku went to Honolulu to play the famed Palama Settlement team for the territorial crown.

It was high drama. A scoreless tie. Every possession, any play, could have clinched it.

And Palama's Mongoose Leandro was pitching a perfect game at punter, nailing Haiku deep every time.

African and Henry begged on the bench, to go in, for a second chance. But they were ignored.

St. Sure timed it perfectly. Final minutes, Haiku pinned inside its own 5. And the coach gave the nod:

"OK! Give 'um all you got!"

The team exploded. It was as if he had flipped a switch.

Shinyama was like Montana. A few first downs, and then a perfect pass, to Henry Inciong. Touchdown. Haiku had done it.

And an era ended. "The Haiku Cannery was beginning to phase out," Hiroshi said, "and the Haiku Camp families were beginning to move out."

Things would never be the same.

Shotei can still feel the "Haiku spirit" of that game, that team, that time. Somehow, Hiroshi can feel it, too.



See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Kalani Simpson can be reached at ksimpson@starbulletin.com

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