Where The Alihi Kulele Calls Signals

Bob Hogue
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Wednesday - October 18, 2006
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Coach Wengler and his players speak only Hawaiian on the field
Coach Wengler and his players speak only Hawaiian on the

If you’re going to select a high school football team of the year after this season, you would probably focus on the winning programs, right? That would be expected.

But this football season, you might consider a team that earned only one victory. But that one victory was huge, considering the odds they were up against.

Anuenue School is a Hawaiian Immersion school located in Palolo Valley, meaning that all of their core teaching is in done in the Native Hawaiian language.

“We have 360 students in grades K through 12, but only 100 high school students,” says Charles Naumu, the school’s principal. (Naumu, by the way, was an outstanding athlete at Kamehameha and BYU back in the ‘60’s.) “We only have 50 male high school students and half of them went out for the football team. We had only one senior (on the team). Everyone else was underclassmen.”

This year, after playing a season of junior varsity football last year, Anuenue joined the OIA White Division, or Division II. The team was unique because most of the coaching and all of the play-calling was done in Hawaiian.

“Sometimes we took advantage of that,” says head coach Kealoha Wengler. “Once on fourth down we saw that (the opposition) was in the wrong (formation.) So we yelled out in Hawaiian and we were able to run for a first down.”

The positions the players played were also given Hawaiian names. The quarterback was called alihi kulele, the running back is aholo, the wide receiver is lala, the linebacker is mahi kua, the free safety fafa.

“Sometimes there were challenges, too. Some of the plays don’t translate into Hawaiian, like Blast, so we just had to go back to English,” Wengler says. “We had a lot of growing pains for our first season, but it was a huge success. We established the foundation of our program. We probably had the only Ironman team in the league; all of our players had to go both ways.”

By the end of the season, the team known as Na Koa, or Warriors, was down to 20 players.

“We did a prayer before every game to call on our ancestors for protection,” says Wengler. “That really helped us get through the season.”

Anuenue School was started 10 years ago and has been known for its outstanding championship paddling teams. But Wengler, who doubles as a school counselor, says the mood of the school really changed this year.

“With the introduction of football and cheerleading, I’ve seen a lot more pride, a lot more energy in the school,” he says. “We had big turnouts for every game.”

Wengler says his goal was to teach sportsmanship and to make his team competitive.

“I think everyone expected us to get blown out, but that didn’t really happen,” he says. “The other coaches complimented us tremendously. (And) the other teams treated us with a lot of respect. That respect went both ways.”

The highlight of Anuenue’s year came in the third week of the season. Their opponent was Kalani, which just happened to be Wengler’s alma mater. “I played there and I coached there at the jayvee level,” he says.

When Na Koa prepared for that game, Wengler could see his team rise to the challenge.

“The emotions were so excited and the team was very confident,” he says.

That confidence spilled over to the field where alihi kulele Kaehukai Nauka tossed two touchdown passes and Na Koa’s defense pitched a shutout as Anuenue won, 14-0.

“To win that first game at the varsity level almost put me in tears,” Wengler recalls. “After the game, the boys dedicated the game to me.”

It was a season of firsts for Anuenue, who won the hearts of high school fans wherever they played, and truly earned the right to call themselves Na Koa.

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