LAHAINA - In a roller coaster ride of a season, the Lahainaluna High School football team once again exemplified the spirit of perseverance that has built a reputation - not only in the Maui Interscholastic League, but throughout the state as well - of a winning program of character built and forged in the merciless sun here on the leeward side of the Valley Isle.
The Lunas ended their season with a stirring 19-14 loss to Waipahu in the semifinals of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division II State Playoffs at the Marauders' home field in a contest that was not decided until the final seconds ticked off of the game clock. Lahainaluna thus finished the season with a 7-5 overall record to win their fifth consecutive MIL D-II championship and make their seventh appearance in the HHSAA playoffs since the current state format was instituted in 1999.
It was, to say the least, a season of steep hills and valleys for a young Luna squad that was besieged by injuries to key players throughout the season. Lahainaluna started six freshmen, listed only one three-year varsity letterman on its roster and used five different players at the key quarterback position. Yet they scratched and fought their way to the league title and were but five yards away from a slot in the championship final before being turned away by Waipahu.
Retiring defensive line coach Clifford Corniel was honored at the banquet. Photo by Walter Chihara.
Lahainaluna co-head coaches Bobby Watson and Garret Tihada concurred in saying, "We came a lot farther than we expected."
High school football is always a work in progress proposition, with success dictated to a large extent by coaching continuity and community support - both areas in which Lahainaluna maintains the cutting edge. The staff of Watson, Tihada, Mike Arakawa, Dean Rickard, Kekoa Mowat, Joey Tihada, Randy Arakawa, Kenui Watson and Clifford Corniel has been playing and coaching football at Lahainaluna for somewhere in the vicinity of 150 years.
The entire staff will be back to lead the Lunas again next fall with the exception of Corniel, who will retire after this year. "We've had a good run; it's time to move on," Corniel said.
And the Luna football fan base reiterated the tradition of red tide support for their boys with overwhelming crowds at all of the MIL games. They certainly impressed the Waipahu people at the playoff game three weeks ago.
With the most generous gift of several million dollars, Sue Cooley has pushed the support for the Lahainaluna stadium closer to completion, which will guarantee the further prominence of the football program with perhaps the top playing venue in the State of Hawaii. The project is slated for completion in time to host night games next fall.
"Game after game, year after year, the Lahaina community comes through with this tremendous support," said Coach Garret. "We always have the most fans at the games here on Maui, and big crowds even on Oahu when we play over there."
The year-end football team banquet - is another aspect of the support shown to the boys. Parents, boosters and organizations such as Friends of Lahainaluna Football - led by former coach and player Lanny Tihada- annually fund and organize this event to honor the coaches and players for their efforts. This year, a luncheon was held at Olowalu.
In particular, the seniors on the squad are recognized for their commitment to continue the sterling tradition of Lahainaluna football. The players who donned the Luna red for the last time included John Mishima, Kaena Felicilda, JR Kenolio-Dusenberry, BJ Pagdilao-Bala, Mark Ventura, Jarin Pasco-Cabanilla, Chanse Uyeda, Daniel Recaido, Feleti Taufa, Jesse Watson and Osaiasi Tautuiaki.
The celebration is also highlighted by the presentation of the Arthur Osamu "Oscar" Chihara Memorial Scholarship Award in recognition of the two senior players who demonstrated the passion and poise exemplified by the namesake of the award. The 2011 honorees are Feleti Taufa and John Mishima. Both received custom lei by Sharon Nohara, plaques from Maui Marking Device and $1,000 cash scholarships courtesy of Mike and Jane Heagerty of H.W. Gorst Company.
Coach Garret said, "We are all surprised with how the season turned out. This was one of the smallest senior classes we've ever had, and with the injuries we had, we were scraping together our lineup in every game we played, including that last playoff game. We were fortunate to get through the season the way we did, and I thank the coaches for all they did to help us win. The kids really had an impressive attitude this year - they believed they could win, especially when we reached the playoffs. They were always upbeat and smiling.
"For all of the returning players, next season starts now. Hopefully, we will get more of them into the weight room on a regular basis. They need to understand that they all need to put in the time in the weight room in the off-season. There can be no excuses. Each day needs to be preparation for next season."