Sports first, foremost in isles


POSTED: Monday, August 17, 2009

To define sports in Hawaii is to define a culture, one with roots in royal recreation and nurtured by international success decades before statehood.

The outside world first came to know Hawaii's athletic prowess through water sports, from Capt. Cook remarking on the astonishing wave-riding abilities of the islanders in the late 1700s to Duke Kahanamoku literally making a splash at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics when winning gold in the 100-meter swimming race.

It comes as no surprise, then, that those living on the planet's most isolated land mass turned to the omnipresent ocean for competition. Consider that the Transpacific Yacht Race (1906), Manoa Cup golf tournament (1907), Hawaiian Canoe Racing Association Championship (1952), Molokai Hoe (1952), Dillingham Grand Prix Tennis Championships (1952) and Makaha International Surfing Championships (1954) are all older than the 50th state.

In some respects, statehood did little to change the world's perception of sports in the islands. To this day, Hawaii is considered its own country in international surf meets.

“;Sports have always been a vital part of our lifestyle,”; state Sen. Fred Hemmings, the 1968 world surfing champion, said. “;And statehood, I know I always had great pride in representing Hawaii as the birthplace of surfing. When I went to the world championships, I went representing Hawaii.

“;There are great waves to ride all around the world, but it took the genius of the Hawaiians to see the pleasure in riding waves. They saw pleasure where others saw peril.”;





        First season records after statehood

        » University of Hawaii football: 3-6

        » University of Hawaii basketball: 9-18

        » Hula Bowl (inaugural East-West format): East 34, West 8

First high school state champions
        » Boys basketball: Farrington defeats Saint Louis 44-32
        » Boys swimming and diving: Punahou
        » Girls swimming and diving: Punahou
        » Baseball: Baldwin defeats Saint Louis 12-7
        » Boys tennis: Punahou
        » Girls tennis: Punahou
        » Boys track and field: Punahou
        Note: Every team that won the first state championship also won the last territorial title from the previous year.


Others notables of 1959
        » Molokai Hoe winner: Waikiki Surf Club
        » Catalina Channel winner: Hawaii All-Stars
        » Hawaii Baseball League champion: Kondo's (auto paint shop)
        » Wrestler Curtis “;The Bull”; Iaukea turns professional
        » Movie “;Gidget”; premieres in Santa Monica, Calif.




If surfing is Hawaii's first gift to the world, then competitive outrigger canoe racing is a close second. Molokai Hoe founder A.E. “;Toots”; Minvielle took the channel-crossing concept to California in 1959 with the inaugural Catalina to Newport Dunes race, held four weeks after Hawaii was admitted as a state.

(The Molokai Hoe, from Molokai to Oahu, is considered the world championship, while the Catalina Channel Race is called the U.S. championship).

Two koa canoes had been shipped to California for the first Catalina race, including Waikiki Surf Club's venerable Malia. While waiting to be shipped back to Hawaii, the Malia was “;borrowed”; by California paddlers and a mold made, thereby establishing the standard for Fiberglas racing canoes—aka Malia mold—that remains today.

Four weeks after winning the Catalina race, the Malia was the first of eight canoes to finish the 39.28-mile Molokai Hoe, part of the first Aloha Week celebrating statehood. It was the second of six consecutive victories for Waikiki Surf Club, a record that still stands.

“;I think what statehood did was make paddling more visible on the mainland,”; longtime paddler Richard “;Babe”; Bell said. “;It increased the number of clubs, not just in California, but most every other state. Now it's in so many countries.

“;I can't believe how big the (Molokai Hoe) has become. It started out as a few canoes, and now you can't even see the sand, there are so many canoes on the beach before the race starts.”;

CLIMATE and boredom dictated the outdoors lifestyle for 1950s island youth.

“;You did your chores, then you went outside and played,”; said longtime Star-Bulletin staffer Randy Cadiente, a former Farrington football standout. “;Winters were like cold summer days. If you got hot, you went to the beach.

“;There were youth leagues ... basketball, flag football ... but not like now. We used to play a lot of something called Sky Inning, a type of baseball game that didn't need more than two to play. Kids back then just wanted to be outside.”;

That active lifestyle set the stage for teen years. Contrary to claims that Hawaii didn't have seasons, three existed, at least at the high school level: football, basketball and baseball.

“;The University (of Hawaii sports) wasn't as big as it is now,”; Cadiente said. “;High school football was king.”;

Honolulu Stadium was its palace. The stadium was “;Where Hawaii Played,”; as the title of Arthur Suehiro's book proclaims.

It hosted everything—polo, stock car racing, boxing, baseball and football—especially high school football.

The original Interscholastic League of Honolulu, which had both public and private “;town”; teams, held doubleheaders that would draw 20,000. The rivalries for the “;Paint Brush Trophy”; (Punahou vs. Roosevelt) and the “;Poi Pounder”; (McKinley vs. Saint Louis) were fierce.

UH football was a hanai brother in terms of popularity, and, two years after statehood, the program went on hiatus for a season due to lack of funds. The Rainbows would not join an NCAA conference until 1979.

Fifty years ago the UH sports program consisted of six men's sports and one—swimming—for women. The 1960 Ka Palapala, the campus yearbook, had no mention of statehood, but devoted eight pages each to the “;unpredictable football squad”; and the basketball team's “;nightmare season.”;

The nightmare wasn't just a 9-18 record. Traveling for competition meant weeks basically barnstorming on the road; in December 1959 the Rainbows played 12 games in 22 days, beginning in Seattle Dec. 7 and finishing Dec. 29, the last day of the Far West Classic in Santa Maria, Calif.

TELEVISION was in its infancy as Hawaii took its baby steps as a state.

If one was lucky to have a set at home, it was black and white. But shows were limited, and sporting events were often shown a week late.

If it was a live event, it was usually at Honolulu Stadium, the Civic Auditorium or Pearl Harbor's Bloch Arena. The Globetrotters came and roller derby was big, as was pro wrestling, which featured Lord Tally Ho Blears and Curtis “;The Bull”; Iaukea.

Fans pored over the daily newspapers, particularly the Star-Bulletin, with its afternoon editions having same-day scores and coverage from the mainland.

“;I know I wanted to be surprised by who won,”; retired Punahou baseball coach and sportscaster Pal Eldredge said. “;I'd try to go the whole week without knowing the score, and that took a lot of ingenuity.

“;I think people were more active back then. You didn't have computers or TV to keep you in the house. If you wanted to 'witness' something happening, you'd listen on the radio. We spent a lot of time in the front yard, making up games, holding our own 'Olympics.' Growing up, I never heard of volleyball being played in a gym.”;

“;What added luster and mystique to sports was listening to games on short-wave radio, with the announcers fading in and out,”; longtime sportscaster Jim Leahey said. “;You'd listen to the World Series in the morning, take the radio on the bus, try to get the teacher to let you listen to the game in class.

“;Statehood and the 747s, with the increase of tourism, exposed the nation to Hawaii and its sports identity. (Gov.) John A. Burns pushed for a new stadium because he wanted Hawaii to be perceived as the same as the states on the continent (U.S. mainland). We were not just second-class citizens. It was, 'Hey, these guys play pretty good.'”;

HAWAII'S success in sports was no secret to those who paid attention. Beginning with Kahanamoku's gold in 1912, Hawaii athletes medaled in every Olympics held leading up to statehood. The majority of medals came in swimming, a few in weightlifting, including gold by Tommy Kono in 1952.

Kono, a native Californian, moved to Hawaii after the 1952 games and went on to a gold in 1956 and silver in 1960.

“;At competitions I'd be introduced as the 'Hawaiian, Tommy Kono,' and I never corrected them,”; Kono said. “;As Dr. Richard Yu said, I looked like I came from Wahiawa. I blended right in from the start.

“;On the mainland I was an Olympic and world champ but never got the publicity like I got here. The local people really embrace you. Being adopted by Hawaii is really something, and interestingly, of my 26 world records, 21 were in foreign countries and five in Hawaii. Nothing in the continental U.S. It's why I felt more that I was always representing Hawaii than the U.S.”;

IN THE 50 years since statehood, Hawaii has seen pro teams come and go: the Hawaii Islanders (PCL baseball), Hula Bowl, the WFL Hawaiians, Arena League football, Hawaii Winter League baseball and various PGA and LPGA tournaments. Popular events such as the Hawaiian Open (now the Sony Open in Hawaii) and Pro Bowl have become part of the sports landscape, and the Ironman, Honolulu Marathon, Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament, Hawaii International Water Polo Tournament and Waikiki Roughwater Swim continue to attract huge international fields.

Every university in Hawaii has won at least one national championship, with the exception of Chaminade. And all the Silverwords have managed to be known is for the greatest upset in college basketball when Chaminade beat then-No. 1 Virginia in 1982, an event that led to the creation of the Maui Invitational, considered the premier preseason tournament.

State high school championships have expanded from five for boys and two for girls to 18 being sanctioned, with 16 for each gender.

And speaking of gender equality in sports, Hawaii played a role in the emergence of women in athletics when Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 was enacted. Now known as the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act—in honor of Mink, the late Hawaii congresswoman and principal author of the bill—it has been most famously applied to college athletics.

There is one common bond that has tied Hawaii's diverse population for decades, and that is sports. It continues to transcend social, economic, political and ethnic divides. Hawaii has always embraced and integrated the sports of other cultures, including sumo and judo.

As much as things have changed since Hawaii's admission as a state, the constant has been that island athletes continue to excel on the local, national and international stage. The legacies, such as those begun by King Kalakaua when founding Healani Canoe Club in 1890; Alexander Joy Cartwright—the father of baseball—establishing the sport here in the 1850s; golfer Francis I'i Brown; and Kahanamoku in the Olympics, are alive and well 50 years after statehood.