Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, September 3, 1999

Star-Bulletin photo, 1947
Herman Wedemeyer, a St. Louis High School football star,
made the 1945 NCAA All-American team while playing for
St. Mary's College. Facts like these are the
mainstay of "Hawaii Sports."

What a sport!

A school project turned into an eight-
year exploration of Hawaii's
world of sports

By Burl Burlingame


HOO BOY, sports is a big subject. Big enough to rate its own newspaper section, generally the biggest in the newspaper. So it's no wonder that when sports-mad Dan Cisco was in library school at the University of Hawaii, and a teacher suggested he do a research project, it took eight years.

The result is "Hawaii Sports: History, Facts and Statistics," a hefty 651 pages from the University of Hawai'i Press.

"It just grew and grew. And grew. It's a monster," said Cisco, cooling his heels in the shade at Waipahu's historic Hans L'Orange Park, where the echoing thwack of solid hits and the thump of gloved line drives seem to hang in the air.

"The big challenge was that there really isn't a sports library to research from. I started doing as many interviews as possible, and reading old newspaper and magazine articles, and sports programs. Everything went into the files."

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Dan Cisco has assembled a massive collection of Hawaii
sports history. Much of that baseball history was made
at Hans L'Orange Park in Waipahu.

He also dived headlong into the archives of sports museums on the mainland. The only equivalent in the islands is the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame, whose athletes are included in the book's many appendices. (He sent the HSHoF a copy when it was published, but hasn't heard from anyone involved.)

Cisco -- a distance runner in high school -- decided to focus on modern, competitive team sports, beginning roughly in the mid 1850s to the present. He wound up with 59 sports, ranging from baseball to underwater hockey.

Ancient Hawaiian sports are touched on, but there is little reliable data until the last century. Modern variations, such as canoeing, surfing and fishing, are included. "Ancient Hawaiian sports deserve their own book," said Cisco.

The renewal of the Olympics a century ago created a forum to showcase Hawaiian athletes such as gold medal swimmer Duke Kahanamoku, and ties to the United States allowed local competition on a national level, as when paniolo Ikua Purdy wowed rodeo audiences across the country.

"Hawaii was able to compete against the world's best, and always did well," said Cisco. "For its size, Hawaii probably has more elite athletes per capita than anywhere else in the world."

Some Hawaii sports figures, like Duke Kahanamoku, Tommy Kono, Buster Crabbe, Toots Minvielle and Jackie Pung are legends. We've won more medals in swimming and weightlifting than any other sport. Punahou has won more girls' track and field state championships than any other school in the country.

Others were surprises. Like bullfighting. E.K. Fernandez introduced bullfighting in 1956 at Honolulu Stadium, and the Hawaiian Humane Society protested mightily. But after one bullfighter was run through a couple of times with bull horns, it was cracked wise that there needed to be a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Bullfighters.

"Hawaii also contributed a bullfighter to the world," said Cisco. "Jacob Keliipiki was in the Air Force in Spain and he became friends with matadors. He eventually became one himself, billed as "El Hawaiian."


The author will sign his book:
Bullet "Hawaii Sports: History, Facts and Statistics"
(University of Hawai'i Press), 651 pages, $24.95.
Bullet When: 1 to 2 p.m. Sunday
Bullet Place: Waldenbooks Ala Moana
Bullet UH Press web site:

It's known that Honolulu fire chief and Civil War hero Alexander Cartwright helped invent baseball. However, another Hawaiian also contributed to a major team sport. Luther Gulick became a nationally known physical-fitness educator, founding, among other organizations, the Camp Fire Girls and the YMCA's inverted-triangle logo. But as director of YMCA's Training School, he led an effort to invent an indoor winter game that could fill the void between football and baseball seasons. The result was basketball, and Gulick is enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Why does Hawaii have so many fine athletes?

"Part of it is the climate, which encourages an active lifestyle," said Cisco. Another aspect were organized sporting events and leagues provided by the military and the plantations during the century's first half. Hawaii kids got to play sports year-round in community-sanctioned leagues. To this day, the close identification with high schools in Hawaii is largely rooted in the traditions created by intramural sports.

"At the end of a game at Honolulu Stadium, the fans would just pour out of the stands onto the field, bringing juice and leis and snacks to the athletes," said Cisco. "Imagine that happening at Aloha Stadium. That's an example of the close relationship between athletes and the community here."

Like the subtitle advertises, "Hawaii Sports" is full of history, facts and statistics. Collecting the data was the first problem, knowing when to stop was the second. Cisco realizes the book will be an ongoing concern. "I hope to revise and update it every three years or so. There are sports to be added, new stats, corrections to be made -- I'm sure -- and someday we'd like to include pictures."

Three years may be too long to update the directories, and Cisco is considering a web site. To contact him with updates, corrections and suggestions, e-mail

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