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Star-Bulletin Sports

Wednesday, September 20, 2000

No state championship. Only a few schools have teams. Players don't get the glory of football stars.

But player for player, game for game, the Punahou-Iolani boys water polo rivalry is arguably the most intense in Hawaii sports.

With the first of two matchups this season coming Friday, the Star-Bulletin asked a former player from each team to write about the rivalry.

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Brandon Lee, left, and Woodie Milks.

Sometimes you
hate friends

By Brandon Lee
Punahou, '91

Winning the Interscholastic League of Honolulu water polo titles was great, in and of itself, but winning these championships at the expense of the same bitter rival year after year made it even sweeter. This is the reason I treasure my years as a member of the Punahou varsity water polo team above all of my other athletic endeavors before, during or since.

Art Nothing came remotely close to the exhilaration when "we" -- the Buffanblu-played "them" -- the team formerly known as the Iolani Red Raiders.

There has always really only been two competitive teams in the sport locally, "us" and "them," though "competitive" may have to be loosely defined since Punahou has won the ILH title 24 out of the last 27 years. In a brief departure from my unrepentant bias, however, I can acknowledge that Iolani has always fielded quality players and teams, generally with a realistic shot at the championship each year.

Straight up though, appropriate words to characterize my sentiments toward Iolani and its players were "intense dislike." And this was true, despite the fact that I was teamed with some of them during the summer to compete against Mainland teams as part of Hawaiian Islands Water Polo and even thought of a select few of these as close friends. That still doesn't mean you don't sometimes despise some of your friends, and for me, I despised all of the Iolani players equally during the fall every year when ILH action heated up. I no longer viewed them as individuals when this shift occurred, but as the collective enemy.

Though I enjoyed many memorable battles with Iolani while at Punahou, a 14-13 triple-overtime victory in the final game of my senior year was the highlight. Avoiding a third game between us on the year to decide the championship had Iolani won, seeing many of "our" fans jump completely clothed into "their" pool when the game finally ended, and the tears streaming down the faces of some of those Red Raiders during their postgame huddle were undeniably satisfying in the way that comes only from beating down your staunchest foe.

The following year when playing for the Claremont-Mudd Stags in southern California, I ran into Red Raiders coach Aaron Chaney, who also refereed collegiate games part-time. My school colors now being red and yellow with the Stags, my suit switched from the familiar blue to a most uncomfortable red. Chaney joked with me that he thought I looked better in red. Obviously it wasn't the only reason, but I did call it quits with the Stags after that one season in that ugly-colored suit.

Brandon Lee, 26, lettered in water polo, canoe paddling and swimming at Punahou. He works on the Star-Bulletin city desk and is a regular contributor to the sports section.

Underdog role
can be cool

By Woodie Milks
Iolani, '90

The Iolani-Punahou rivalry in water polo is special for many reasons.

Because the two schools are traditionally considered among the top academic institutions in the state, the rivalry became a unique extension of the existing inter-school rivalry. While other schools could claim championships in other sports, Iolani and Punahou have had a special ownership of the game.

An interesting aspect of the rivalry is that Iolani is always the underdog. We're usually expected to lose. Punahou's athletes are bigger, stronger, faster, and, admittedly, more talented. We were David fighting Goliath. Every time the team suited up for The Game, we could make history by winning.

Each season, we could give lip service to "this being the year," but deep down, the players and coaches knew who was better on paper. There's truly something special about being an underdog sometimes; the victories taste better.

We got to relish that taste only once while I was on the team.

However heated the rivalry became, the big game was good for the sport and good for us as young athletes. Punahou games demanded of us the highest degree of preparation, competitiveness, desire, and pure fight.

The rivalry elevated the ability of everyone in the pool -- I remember certain individuals doing things in games against Punahou that they could never do in practice or in other league games. We swam faster, dug deeper, hit harder.

We liked the whole underdog thing. Even though we lost, we always put forth our best effort.

We loved our coach (Aaron Chaney) and wanted to win for him because we knew it meant a lot to him. I ended up teaching and coaching as he did and wanted to have the same intensity and love for the sport he did, but I had more intensity as a player. We wanted to be him: smart, in shape, respected.

At Iolani, being a water polo player, you were kind of a stud. It's an elitist sport, with it's own culture.

It was a status symbol to be on the water polo team. The football players were not necessarily thought of as the best athletes in school. We did what they did, but while treading water. It's a violent, rough sport.

Every good athlete, even in defeat, loves his sport. So when our opponents force the best from us and bring the game itself to a higher level, we begrudgingly respect them and are grateful to them.

One thing's for sure, none of us are going to squeeze into those Speedos again. If you thought Richard of "Survivor" fame was frightening ...

Woodie Milks lettered in soccer, water polo, football, track and field, and cross country at Iolani. Milks, 28, teaches government and history at St. Louis School and is working on an MBA at the University of Hawaii.

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