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Gains on the Gridiron

Last year, Molokai High School’s (MHS’s) club football team played its first two games in 50 years. About 20 players were on the roster, and head coach Mike Kahale joked they played with “chicken-skin goosebumps,” and wore donated, dyed uniforms that came out looking “doo-doo green.”

More than 30 players participated in tryouts for the club team’s second season last week, and they look forward to playing more than twice as many games as last season – including their home opener on Sept. 17.  They were brimming with confidence, and had used fundraising and donations to purchase their own uniforms – in proper Molokai Farmer green.

“We were stoked when we found out [about the new uniforms],” said senior linebacker Matthew Tancayo, one of about 12 players returning from last year. “We were willing to do anything to get those pads.”

The club purchased the uniforms through grants from the Queen Lili`uokalani Community Center and Friendly Isle United Fund, as well as money raised through Krispy Kreme and plate lunch fundraisers.

Some of that money will also go toward travel. At roughly $90 per player per game, that expense is typically covered by the Maui Interscholastic League (MIL). Since the Farmers are a club team, however, the players must raise travel money themselves. Kahale expects that next year, the MIL will sanction the team to make it MHS’s official football squad – and fund their travel.

Kahale decided to put a team together last year so that Molokai’s keiki could have the same chance to play sports as those on other islands or the mainland. After getting the go-ahead to start an eight-man team (as opposed to the traditional 11-player format), he started rounding up students – which was easy on Molokai, he said, where many had played for Pop Warner youth teams.

“We have the athletes on Molokai,” he said. “Football is a team sport which these kids love to play.”

In addition to learning about the sport, players are taught discipline, teamwork and cooperation, Kahale said, adding that the sport motivates players to keep their grades up so they can stay on the team. Eventually, he hopes players will capitalize on football scholarships at small schools.

“If football is that carrot in front of them [to excel in academics,] I’m all for it,” he said. “When they go back to the classroom or the community, the lessons they learned translate there.”

Kahale is joined this year by three assistant coaches. While the results of tryouts will determine the team’s style and strategy, he said they plan to control the game on the ground and open it up for the pass when possible.

The team has also made an impact on the community, he said, giving the island yet another reason to cheer. Senior quarterback Dayson Gomes, another returning player, said he felt the community’s support when the team hosted St. Anthony last year.

“Almost [all of] Molokai came out. The parking lot was filled,” he said. “Hopefully we can win our games here at home, and away.”

Their first game of the season is on Sept. 17 against Seabury Hall, at the MHS field. For updates, check out the team’s Facebook page, “Molokai High School Football.”

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