Star-Bulletin Sports

Several local players visited Tonga for a football game, including Inoke Funaki (Kahuku), Misitana Uyema (Iolani) and Moana Hafoka (Kahuku). At right is Fine Uyema, Misitana's mother.

Tongan bowl gives
local players chance
to learn about their roots

The football game was
just 1 of the many
things going on

By Jason Kaneshiro

A team of Hawaii football players made a strong impression on the fans at Tonga's Teufaiva Stadium with a convincing win over a mainland squad last month. But the chance to visit their homeland left an even greater impact for the high schoolers who made the trek to the South Pacific.

Siuaki Livai, coach of the two-time state champion Kahuku football team, organized the first Tongan Youth Football Bowl where a team of Hawaii seniors of Tongan descent defeated a team of mainland Tongans 27-0. But football was only part of the mission for the players and coaches.

"They definitely gained more appreciation for their roots, for the people and for the land," Livai said. "The idea was to love Tonga, to be proud and to represent their country and culture.

"The kids came back not just happy they took the trip, but really love that place and would love to return. So it was truly a successful trip."

The game was held July 5 between semifinal contests of the nation's rugby championships in the Tongan capital of Nuku'alofa.

All-State quarterback Inoke Funaki of Kahuku threw three touchdown passes to lead the Hawaii team offensively. Livai also praised the play of Iolani defensive back Tana Uyema.

Other Hawaii players of note were Kahuku all-state receiver Ferron Fonoimoana, offensive lineman Kalavi Blanchard and defensive back Sola Soliai, Kailua quarterback Taleki Mailau, defensive lineman Felipo Suliafu and Maui running back Andrew Malafu. Hilo, Lahainaluna, Castle, Waipahu, St. Louis and Farrington were also represented on the Hawaii roster.

The mainland team, which included players from Samoa and New Zealand, was headlined by Haloti Ngata, a standout defensive lineman from Highland High School in Salt Lake City. Ngata was rated as high as second on lists of the nation's top recruits last winter and is headed to Oregon.

"It was a good game," said Hardy Spoehr, one of the four game officials who accompanied the group. "It was basically the ground game of the mainland team against the air machine of the Hawaii team."

In addition to his roles as teacher and coach at Kahuku, Livai is president of Tongan Youth of America. He said the idea for the game came from the Down Under Bowl, an annual all-star event held in Australia.

"It was getting to a point where (the Down Under Bowl) was too expensive," Livai said. "But that's how it was originated, to go to a Down Under Bowl-type game but instead of going sightseeing somewhere else let's go back to the roots, go back home."

While practice consumed much of the players' time in Tonga, the group of more than 200 was able to do some sightseeing around the island, tour local high schools and attend church with King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV. The trip also gave the players a chance to meet cousins and other distant relatives.

"It was a wonderful occasion Coach put together," Spoehr said. "It was a really unique experience ... and I know the kids that went were reconnected with their families and with their homeland."

Spoehr officiates in the ILH during the high school season and was joined by Bill Flanders, Gary Daniels and Wayne Kaneaiakala.

Next year's game, which Livai has dubbed the Kingdom Bowl, is scheduled for July 11. Livai said plans are already in the works to take boys and girls basketball and volleyball teams along with the football teams, which will be open to Tongan and non-Tongan seniors.

He also wants to establish the "Freshman Experience," where ninth graders would spend a week attending a Tongan high school.

Information on next year's trip will soon be available online at, which is scheduled to be operational in September.

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