It has been a year since the Wildcats claimed the Hawai’i High School Athletic Association Division I Football Championship, but we can not stop bragging about how this team brought the trophy to South Kona. The success of Konawaena High School, whether it is in athletics, academics, or social achievements, is a victory for the entire community. Winning championships like this one is the result of the hard work and dedication of many people. We want to take this opportunity to thank them for allowing us to believe that Christmas miracles do exist and for reminding us that teamwork is one way to make them happen.
But to understand how this accomplishment took place, we need to go back a few years. In 2007, Aaron Nagata was the head coach and instilled the concept of tradition. He got pictures from past generations of football teams at Konawaena, framed and lined them up around the locker room. Suddenly, the alumni were not just names, they were heritage, history, and something to be grateful for. This caused the players to understand they were privileged enough to stand on the shoulders of those who came before them.
Two years later, Coach Cliff Walters brought new excitement to the game as he showcased the athleticism of the team and challenged the players to lift weights on their own time. That same year, Brad Uemoto began his coaching career with Konawaena Football as an assistant and in 2015, he was promoted to head coach. He received the torch from Coach Cliff Walters, who had just finished a 4-year term, in which the program had been turned around, and Konawaena had won 3 consecutive BIIF titles. “We were the runners-up in his last season, but the foundation of the program had been set, and we had a cupboard full of great talent,” says Coach Brad.
In his new role, Coach Brad took the players and challenged them to improve their game. He ramped up the players' strength and conditioning program, raising expectations progressively at practice and making it tough. “The product on the field was a direct reflection of the daily work put in,” Coach Brad shares. His goal was to capitalize on the physical and cultural make-up of the players who represented the community.
This style of play required the football team to be physically more fit as an integral part of its success. Unfortunately, the weight room at Konawaena was a dilapidated storage room with equipment nobody used anymore. People like Coach Paul Chinnen did what they could to help, bringing a handful of boys down to the local gyms to work out after football practice, but more needed to be done.
In 2018, Tiger Hill, from Respect the Corners, joined Coach Brad’s team and shared a dream of building a state-of-the-art weight room for Konawaena High School. Yet, it felt like just that. A dream. They needed $55K to build the type of facility that would help their students. Luckily, Shawn Suzuki, Konawaena’s Principal at that time, wrote a letter on their behalf to solicit private funding. The ball was rolling and eventually, the funds arrived.
“Principal Suzuki was always the biggest supporter of our program. He would be seen on the sideline of every game. Although he wasn’t a Konawaena alumnus, the traditions and history of our school were ingrained in him. I believe that the players and coaches who have built Konawaena football are still important to who we are. When the leader of our school believes in us, it becomes easier for coaches to instill that same tradition in our team,” Coach Brad shares.
By 2019, their dream came true, and the weight room went from having 3 players lifting weights to over 80 junior varsity and football players training together. In addition to scouting and skill-building, Coach Brad’s role in preparing the team for competition extended beyond the physical aspect. He worked hard to ensure that the team was ready, both mentally and emotionally.
“Coach Brad and his team have always been committed to their focus on helping students succeed academically and build strong character. This championship is just another validation that the school's core beliefs, as well as the community's, are right and true. It proves that perseverance, working hard, and having a growth mindset are the keys to success,” shares Principal Suzuki.
When the 2022 championship finally came, the football team’s conditioning was on full display in their games. It combined a solid senior class and the football team’s experience in the state tournament. The senior class started as freshmen with over 30 players with evident talent. Coach Brad knew a state title was a possibility down the road and did not allow the group to fall short of expectations. The result? A deserved victory.
“‘Aiea and Waipahu (High School) may have had some bigger, faster, and more athletically gifted athletes on their teams, but midway through the third quarter, while they were slowing down, we were still playing at first-quarter tempo. I share this with no disrespect to them, but rather in praise of our coaches, training, and players who have learned to overcome great obstacles,” shares Coach Paul Chinnen.
This victory proved to the community that it can be done. With perseverance, no dream or obstacle is too big to overcome without trying. Since then, Konawaena has had more and more players attending college, something many of them had never considered before.
“Coming home with the trophy was one of the most special moments in my life. It'll always be something this group of coaches and players will cherish. It will be something our community can always reflect on,” Coach Brad says.
Sports draw people together, excite them, and cheer for a cause that makes them forget their everyday burdens. Even if someone gets momentarily upset because their team did not win, we all know that it’s just a game. Life goes on, and we either win or learn.
So this month, if you are not celebrating Christmas, do not have family around, or do not enjoy all the hype for caroling, get together with someone to watch a game. Find someone around you who is also not waiting for Santa and share life with them. The point of this season is to remember that nobody has to be alone. For a Mele Kalikimaka, we need each other to make it happen. Merry Christmas!
“Coming home with the trophy was one of the most special moments in my life. It'll always be something this group of coaches and players will cherish.” – Coach Brad