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Special Olympics Basketball Takes Gold

The Molokai Special Olympics basketball team is on a roll bringing home the gold, taking the championship on Oahu for the past seven years, according to Molokai Special Olympics Coordinator Rita Kalahiki. This year, though, they played with a mixed team of both veteran and less experienced players — and still won gold last weekend at the annual statewide Holiday Classic.

“The team was too good, no one would play against them,” said Kalahiki of the basketball team’s success streak. So in order for the competition to agree to play against Molokai this year, Kalahiki said she had to mix up the island’s three teams of different levels — A, B and C teams — to form two new A teams.

“The other teams saw they had a chance,” she said. But Molokai still came home victorious. The winning A team, Koa Mana Elua, coached by Matthias “Sumu” Asano, defeated team Nuenue from Oahu for first place, while the second Molokai team, Koa Mana Ekahi, took fourth place in the tournament, according to Asano.

Koa Mana Elua — consisting of team captain Amy Luuloa-Kealaiki, Nathanael “Braddah Boi” Asano, Timothy Pascua, Matthew Tanielu, Poliahu Purdy, Jacob Spencer and Ernest Kapu — lost to Nuenue 32-49 during the first Round Robin section of the event, where each team challenges one another. During the second round, Koa Mana Elua came out on top, to once again face Nuenue in the finals, where they beat the Oahu team 42-37 for the gold.

For Asano, the secret to his team’s success was “being humble and playing their own game and not worrying about anyone else or the crowd….They had really good teamwork,” he added. “Everybody had a shot and contributed.”

Supporting the Special Olympics on Molokai runs in Asano’s family. He said the majority of his family has been involved since his grandfather, George “Mutt” Aea, coordinated the program 15 or 20 years ago. With two of Asano’s seven siblings being physically challenged, the cause is close to his heart. This is Asano’s second year coaching basketball, with everyone in the program working on a volunteer basis.

“Every year is special — seeing them happy and competing is totally heartwarming,” he said.


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