By Paul Arnett

Friday, January 29, 1999

Hula Bowl again proves
Maui no ka oi

COUNTRY singer LeAnn Rimes cranked out her hit song, "How Do I Live?" from the back corner of the south end zone to an appreciative crowd that included a solitary fan sitting on code-blue steel stands 150 yards away.

The blowing rain that rushed around and through Maui's War Memorial Stadium during the Hula Bowl hadn't bothered him.

"That is my kind of fan," Hula Bowl executive director Marcia Klompus said from the high school press box that was poorly disguised as a luxury suite.

She had spent a good part of her day in this uncomfortable storm supervising the 53rd annual college all-star game that, weather aside, was a success.

"The time we went to Michigan State to invite the Spartans to the 1989 game against Hawaii, there was this fan sitting alone in the end zone," Klompus recalled. "It was so cold and snowy, he could have sat anywhere and no one would have cared. But that was his seat and he wasn't moving."

Most of the 20,000-something fans just huddled against each other throughout the game and concert, holding their umbrellas and their breath to fight off the tropical storm winds.

Thea vonAppen would love these hearty souls, who wore big smiles and trash bags for rain coats. The wife of former Hawaii head coach Fred vonAppen berated the fickle Oahu faithful for letting a little rain keep them away. "Green Bay fans watch games with the snot frozen on their faces," she once said.

Well, Sunday's setting wasn't the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field, but it's this kind of dedication that may be why Maui is subtly stealing many top events.

WITH that in mind, perhaps a leading Maui official could contact someone at the HHSAA to see if the championship game in football could be played at War Memorial Stadium and televised on a pay-per-view basis to the remaining islands.

The folks over there already have proved they are competent hosts. Major basketball programs are opting to play in the Maui Invitational during Thanksgiving, rather than waiting to compete in the Rainbow Classic after Christmas.

Maui Mayor James Apana is so confident the big boys -- Duke, North Carolina, Arizona and Kansas -- will use their once-every-four-year-exemption on Maui, there are plans to build a new arena in Lahaina, capable of hosting major concerts and tournaments.

"We believe we can build something similar to the Stan Sheriff Center for about $18 million," said Apana, who was a key figure in bringing the Hula Bowl to Maui. "If we want the Maui Invitational to be a major tournament, then we need to play it in a big arena, so schools can bring a lot of fans who buy ticket-packages to Maui."

And it doesn't end there.

LET'S not forget Maui resident Mark Rolfing's silly season Lincoln-Mercury Kapalua International becoming the first stop on the PGA Tour. Not that there's anything wrong with a Ford, but the Mercedes Championships was too big of an opportunity for Maui to drive by.

While the rest of the country froze, marquee golfers David Duval, Tiger Woods and Mark O'Meara strolled through the lush setting of Kapalua's Plantation Course in relative comfort.

Unfortunately for Oahu golf fans, the Sony Open in Hawaii played second fiddle. With no Duval, no Woods and only five of the top 20 players present, Maui came away the winner in this PGA Tour experiment.

It's enough to make you want to pack your bags and move. These folks are on the cutting edge of landing major attractions. They aren't bogged down by a Stadium Authority or a lumbering university system rife with nine-to-fivers who's primary goal is to bow down to the bottom line.

Instead, these are idea-minded citizens, capable of not only realizing their visions, but who have the fortitude to remain in their seats come what may.

Paul Arnett has been covering sports
for the Star-Bulletin since 1990.

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