Where Little League Began In The Islands
Wednesday - March 16, 2011
You see them on the ball fields and playground diamonds every year about this time. They’re the latest hopefuls in local Little League baseball.
Hawaii has become one of the leaders in the national youth baseball movement, especially since Ewa Beach and Waipio won world and U.S. championships in recent years at the Little League World Series. Other leagues in Pearl City, Aiea, Manoa and elsewhere also have had great success.
But there is a league on the Windward side of Oahu that set the standard several decades before today’s youngsters were even born.
Kailua Little League turns 54 years old this season - it’s believed Johnny Dolan started the league in 1956, but its charter actually began in 1957. According to league officials, that makes it the oldest Little League organization in Hawaii. Over the years, the league has featured some of the biggest names in Hawaii baseball lore - Sid Fernandez, Cory Ishigo and Kenny Harrison, among many other outstanding stars of yesteryear.
“I remember Sid hitting a home run in a district tournament,” says Bob Kawamoto, a Kailua octogenarian who was the Little League district administrator for more than 40 years. “He was as good a hitter as he was a pitcher.”
More than a decade before Fernandez became a rising star in Kailua, the league made history by becoming the first Hawaii-based all-star team to reach the Little League World Series semi-finals in Williamsport, Pa. The year was 1959, and according to the official Little League records, the Windwardites were ousted by the eventual winners from Michigan.
The Kailua Little League will celebrate its latest birthday at opening ceremonies Saturday, April 2, at 8 a.m. at Kailua District Park. Most of the teams in all the age divisions will be on hand, ready to show off their brand-new uniforms. For the 15th straight year, the uniform shirts will be provided by the Law Offices of Ian Mattoch. The local attorney is one of several businesses that help out Little League baseball every year.
The league has dozens of volunteers, as community members enjoy getting involved, including MidWeek editor Don Chapman, who helped coach his son Kai’s teams for seven years, through minors, majors and into seniors. And I managed one of the original Kailua Little League softball teams, coaching my daughters Becky and Jesica. Both Don and I recall it as one of the most rewarding things we were ever involved in.
Gaylord Manoa, the current Kailua Little League president, feels that sense of fulfillment every time he passes a local ball field. Manoa and his group of hard-working volunteers have pushed hard to increase participation in the league this spring. They passed out more than 7,000 fliers around town, and they watched as registration skyrocketed.
Since joining the league as a coach back in 1978, Manoa has coached his own children, as well as his grandchildren, and he has watched Kailua Little League (a combination of what were formerly Kailua American and Kailua National leagues) double in size from 200 players when he started his presidency to more than 400 this season. The league has recently increased to 33 teams in all, amid renewed enthusiasm for Little League baseball partially brought on by the televised success of the Ewa Beach and Waipio teams.
So when you see a Little League ballplayer in uniform this spring, think about giving that young boy or young girl a high five, and wish them all the best of luck on the field. And remind them as they try to become the latest and greatest youth baseball stars from Hawaii that it all started in Kailua more than five decades ago.
Happy Birthday, Kailua Little League! Play ball!
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