IT only takes a spark to get a fire going. In this case, Kanoa Ostrem and Paka Worthington could help ignite a volleyball wildfire in the Cook Islands.
warming up to volleyball
Think of it as volleyball served with kia orana and aloha.
Worthington (Kamehameha '85) is president of the Rarotona Volleyball Association in the Cook Islands, where a net strung between two coconut trees is as good of an excuse as any for an inter-village match. Interest is high, but the islanders are yet to be competitive within the Pacific Region.
Enter Ostrem (Punahou '88), a third-year University of Hawaii law school student with an extensive volleyball background. He was contacted by Worthington earlier this year to help develop the game in the Cook Islands.
Through a grant from the Outrigger Duke Kahanamoku Foundation, Ostrem was able to travel to various parts of the Cook Islands to establish a "big brother" relationship with Hawaii volleyball clubs.
"I worked with their national team and they're young but good," said Ostrem, who was the captain of Punahou's undefeated state champion volleyball and soccer teams his senior year. "They've got an excellent infrastructure and good people in administration who can make this work.
"I was amazed at the unselfishness of the young players, the cohesiveness. There were no frowns or complaints. Some of them don't even have shoes, but they enjoy the game so much. I'm almost afraid to spoil the feeling by helping them get to the higher competition level."
The Cook Islands play other island nations in several quadrennial Olympic-style competitions. Basketball and volleyball are among the premier sports of the South Pacific Games and Oceania Games.
OSTREM worked extensively with Danie Mahae, training him to become the national coach. But there's more to the education than drills and practices.
"Right now they have a number of very good 16- to 19-year-olds with good size and they would be a good ILH team if they played here," Ostrem said. "What we'd like to be able to do is get Mahae to come up and see the top (ILH) teams like Punahou and Kamehameha play against each other. Eventually, we'd like to get their team here for the Pacific Rim (19-and-under junior) Tournament.
"Punahou (boys varsity) coach Scott Rigg is trying to take an all-star team down there. If that happens, I'll probably coach the Cook Island team. They really would like to have people from Hawaii visit them. They're so eager to become a 'brother' country."
Ostrem spoke as glowingly of the islanders as he did of the islands.
"It's beautiful down there," he said. "And sports are huge. There's 10,000 people and the daily newspaper is full of sports.
"I really enjoyed the people. You make instant friends for life. Before every practice, they held hands and prayed. It reminded you of why you are here. You felt like you're all on the same team."
Ostrem expects to return during spring break, which coincides with the Cook Islands national volleyball championships. He hopes to be traveling with a Hawaii prep all-star team.
"It would be such a great cultural experience for the young players," said Ostrem.
He also hopes to bring his wife, the former Renee Akiona. They were married last spring. A week later, instead of being on his honeymoon, Ostrem was in the Cook Islands.
Ostrem is accepting donations to further the goodwill volleyball efforts between Hawaii and the Cook Islands. He can be reached at 942-2322.
Cindy Luis is a Star-Bulletin sportswriter.
Her column appears weekly.