Thursday, October 10, 2013

Polynesian football hall of fame

The stories passed down through the generations of Polynesians have been through oral traditions and cultural practices. Whether it be song, dance or genealogy chant, the ties between the past and present have remained strong within the "many islands" — as is the translation of Polynesia — binding dots of land spread out over 70.1 million square miles of the Pacific Ocean.

Football was officially added to that connection with Wednesday's announcement of the inaugural Polynesian Football Hall of Fame Class of 2013. Six players and one coach will be inducted in conjunction with January's Pro Bowl Week in Honolulu.

Selected in the player category were Waianae High graduate Kurt Gouveia; Saint Louis School products Olin Kreutz and the late Herman Wedemeyer; Kevin Mawae; the late Junior Seau; and Jack Thompson. Former Radford High and UH quarterback Ken Niumatalolo, the current head coach at Navy, was selected in the coach/contributor category.

"It was a very hard decision and it will only get harder and harder as more eligible players retire," former University of Hawaii football coach Dick Tomey, chair of the selection committee, said. "The hardest thing may have been getting from that initial 200-plus down to 20. Then we had a conference call to get it to six.

"All those nominated were deserving to be in this class and there will continue to be even more who are equally deserving. That's how tough it will be to get into the hall of fame."

Among those notably absent from the list were former UH and Farrington great Jesse Sapolu, one of only six San Francisco 49ers to win four Super Bowls, and former UH and Mililani defensive end Ma'a Tanuvasa, who won two Super Bowls with the Denver Broncos.

As co-founders of the hall of fame and members of the board of directors, the two asked that they not be considered for induction this year, Tomey said.

"They wanted to have the focus on the hall of fame, not on themselves and the potential of a conflict of interest," Tomey said. "That speaks volumes about their character."

The accomplishments of the seven inductees speaks volumes as well. The number of all-pro and all-America awards is as impressive as the off-field contributions to the Polynesian communities they represented.

"This is a proud moment and historic day," Sapolu said during Wednesday's press conference at the Sheraton Waikiki. "The board — June Jones, Vai Sikahema, Troy Polamalu, Reno Mahe — have been discussing this during our annual goodwill tours to Samoa. We wanted to recognize not only the greatest players, coaches and contributors but also have it serve as an inspiration for Polynesian youth to achieve their dreams and goals.

"We see this as a vehicle that can bring our Polynesian community even closer."

Although a committee in Utah has offered a permanent home for the hall of fame, discussions are ongoing with the Polynesian Cultural Center to establish it in Laie.

"We want this to have a sense of place and Hawaii does that," Tanuvasa said. "It's the stopover for those going to and from Samoa, Tahiti, Fiji and other islands. And the (Polynesian Cultural Center) with its foot traffic, the number of tourists from around the world who would see it, would be a good place."

The inaugural enshrinement ceremony is scheduled for Jan. 23, 2014, at the Hawaii Convention Center.

polynesianfootballhof.com.

KURT GOUVEIA
Gouveia, of Hawaiian ancestry, was named both the offensive and defensive player of the year when playing two ways for the Waianae Seariders. He went on win a national title with Brigham Young, and played 13 seasons in the NFL, mostly with Washington, twice winning the Super Bowl with the Redskins.

OLIN KREUTZ
Kreutz, also of Hawaiian ancestry, was a consensus All-American center at the University of Washington. He played for 14 seasons in the NFL, mostly with the Chicago Bears, and was named to the NFL all-decade team for the 2000s.

KEVIN MAWAE
Mawae, another player of Hawaiian ancestry, was the first Polynesian to serve as president of the NFL Players Association. The LSU sports hall of fame and NFL all-pro center played 16 seasons in the NFL and also was on the NFL all-decade team for the 2000s.

JUNIOR SEAU
Seau, a two-time All-American linebacker for USC, played 20 seasons in the NFL, mostly with the San Diego Chargers. Of Samoan ancestry, he was a 10-time all-pro selection, the Walter Payton Man of the Year award winner in 1994, and named to the NFL's all-decade team for the 1990s. He died in 2012.

JACK THOMPSON
Thompson, known as the "Throwin' Samoan" during his NCAA record-setting quarterbacking career at Washington State, went on to play six seasons in the NFL. He was selected by the Cincinnati Bengals in the first round of the 1979 NFL Draft, third overall, which was highest ever for a player of Polynesian descent.

HERMAN WEDEMEYER
Wedemeyer, the "Flyin' Hawaiian" and consensus All-American halfback at St. Mary's in the 1940s, was the first player of Polynesian descent to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Of Hawaiian ancestry, Wedemeyer played two seasons in the All-America Football Conference — a short-lived pro league that rivaled the NFL — but later gained fame as "Det. Duke Lukela" on the original "Hawaii Five-O" series. He died in 1999.

KEN NIUMATALOLO
Niumatalolo, a former UH quarterback, was the first person of Samoan ancestry to be named a collegiate head football coach when he was hired by Navy in 2007. He also was the first service academy coach to lead his team to the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy in his first two seasons, doing so with the Midshipmen in 2007 and 2008.

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Pride and determination are often enough to get things done in a hurry. When that doesn’t work, a swift kick in the okole can prove beneficial.

That’s pretty much how the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame got started.

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