LAHAINA - Spearheaded by another of the growing group of positive action advocates for West Side youths, the Department of Education-sanctioned activity of intermediate school wrestling rolls into its second year here on Maui.
Led by former Lahainaluna High School and Northern Colorado wrestler and current Lahaina Intermediate School substitute teacher and Lunas coach Nate Williams, the program has sprouted on the Valley Isle to include teams from Molokai, Lokelani, Kalama, Maui Waena and Iao Intermediate School, as well as LIS (and possibly Lanai in the near future).
With the aid of LIS Principal Marsha Nakamura, Williams pushed for the inaugural season last year. Participation has skyrocketed in 2014 to include most of Maui County's intermediate schools.
The Ke Alii Wrestling Club has 41 girls and boys on its roster.
"The ILH (Interscholastic League of Honolulu) has been doing this for years, and that's why schools like Punahou and Iolani dominate the state tournament," explained Coach Nate last week at the end of a Ke Alii Wrestling Club practice in the LIS cafeteria.
"This has been the ILH edge in Hawaii for years, because they had the experience and continuity of the wrestlers coming up through the intermediate programs."
It had been Williams' dream to bring that same edge to the kids here, and with his persistence and the support of Principal Nakamura at LIS, the reality of such a program is here in force, manifested by the eager participation of the seven Maui schools.
Coach Nate added that the excitement is growing after a highly successful meet hosted by the LIS Ke Alii two weeks ago at the Lahainaluna gym.
"That was an awesome night highlighted by our team warming up to the song 'Lahaina Grown' and the great turnout from all across Maui County," he said.
"We've had tremendous support from everybody involved. From the beginning last year with Marsha Nakamura's help, and on to the work of Cindy Koyama, Sharon Nohara, Ui Kua'ana, Luna coaches Todd Hayase and Shane Cunanan, Tina Cooper, my wife Liza Williams, the Maui Marriott Ocean Club, and all the parents and families of the kids, it's been fantastic."
He noted that the Ke Alii team has 41 girls and boys on its roster, and all weight classes - from 77 pounds to heavyweights at 285 - in 16 and 18 divisions, respectively, are filled.
"The kids are really responding well, and it's great to see these six to eighth-graders competing. We're taking 31 kids and a group of coaches and chaperones to the ILH Intermediate Tournament at Punahou on January 18, and Iao and Kalama are going, too. This is the first time public schools have had this kind of a program," he said.
The Ke Alii Wrestling Club is selling T-shirts to raise funds for the trip to Oahu. The commemorative shirts are $10, and all proceeds will support the club. Call 662-3965 for more information.
The 2014 season will culminate with the Kalama Duels on Jan. 31 and then the Maui Intermediate School Championships at Baldwin High School on Feb. 7.