High School football and Texas are synonymous, especially for those that live in the Lone Star State. In these parts, high school football is to Texas as apple pie is to America.
But that doesn’t mean Friday Night football is just reserved for those in the nation’s second largest state.
Far away from Texas, and over the Pacific Ocean, football is also a way of life for small communities on the North Shore of Oahu in Hawaii.
Past the hustle and bustle of Waikiki and before the enchanting and rustic Haleiwa Town lies the small community of Waialua.
The Ohana culture runs deep in Waialua, and Waialua Bulldog football is part of the cultural fabric that ties the small town together.
I was on vacation last month in Hawaii, refueling for the upcoming football season, but even in a part of the country more known for luaus, beautiful beaches and the friendliest of people, I was somehow, accidentally drawn back into the world of high school football.
After a long day discovering the Waimea Valley, my family and I were headed back to our rental house in Haleiwa. Hungry after the day’s activities, the smell of Hawaiian barbecue permeated the air and we soon found ourselves following the smell of the food and ignoring the GPS on our phones chiming away and spouting out directions.
We couldn’t believe our luck when we arrived at our alternate destination, what looked like a food track fair with all kinds of foods, drinks and desserts with a Hawaiian flaire. After sampling the spring rolls and enjoying freshly fried malassada donuts, I chose a plate of barbecue and found a spot to sit at, striking up conversation with some friendly Waialua natives.
The food truck fair was actually a fundraiser for the Waialua football team on the grounds of the high school, and as small a community as it is, they came out in droves to support the Bulldogs.
As Waialua Athletic Director Bryce Kaneshiro says, that’s the norm for these fundraisers, and itâ€™s the norm for football games as well.
“We’re a small community, but even with that we have a strong football following. Football here on the islands is just as big as it is anywhere else,” Kaneshiro said. “Marcus Mariota signing on with Tennessee sparks more interest in the game, so we’ve got some recruits coming out of our high school football teams.”
Aside from the Honolulu-born Mariota bring drafted into the NFL, Waialua has also seen some success with Bulldogs alumni playing for college teams on the mainland.
While it may differ from the million dollar stadiums or the scrutiny of being followed closely under a microscope by recruiters and a national audience, Waialua’s modest stadium and sometimes under-the-radar prospects get to the root of what makes high school football what it is, and why the emotional ties are there in Texas.
It’s about a community rallying around one team playing with unmatched passion for a sport they love, and that’s universal whether you are in the DFW metroplex or in the middle of a sugar mill town whose population is trumped by the typical Texas Friday night stadium attendance.
Still, even in a town that only takes up an area of 2.4 square miles, when those flood lights go on at Toshiyuki Nakasone Stadium, and the chants start in the distance, it’s game time, and the charm of that is enough to get your blood pumping regardless of location.
Playing for family, pride and community is what it’s all about. What Waialua may not have that some of the bigger programs in Texas have, they make up in spades with authentic high school football.
“Waialua is a very small community so it’s nice to see them all come together,” Kaneshiro said.
Kaneshiro and the Bulldogs will be holding their final fundraiser tonight in hopes of reaching their goal of sending the team to the big island to play a preseason game against the Honokaa Dragons at Aloha Stadium on August 8.
While the entire population of Waialua could only possibly fill up about 13 percent of Aloha Stadium’s capacity, those in attendance shouldn’t expect anything less than what I saw a month ago when a small community became the highlight of my trip.