HANAPEPE – They see the field, they see the lights.
They see bone-crushing tackles, they see finger-tip, toe tapping touchdown catches. They see the victories, nearly three a year, and the dejection on the faces of those who challenge the Big Blue Machine – the 11-year KIF champion Waimea Menehune football program.
But what’s dynamic about the field at Hanapepe Stadium is what fans can’t see – the preparation involved and the people who make it all possible.
Working behind the scenes is a group of modern day Menehune who play a vital role in making Hanapepe Stadium one of the most fan friendly venues to watch high school football (and baseball) in the nation, as ranked this year by the Sporting News’ Student Sports Magazine.
Head grounds keeper Dominic Agu, along with Russel Wellington, Richie Osaka, Kirk Korrea, Danny Perierra and about fifteen other volunteers, are responsible for the care and maintenance of the field.
“This is a seven day a week operation,”Agu says. “Between watering and cutting the grass, painting the lines and logos, we’re always working.”
Being one of only a few sporting venues on Kaua’i, Hanapepe field is active about 320 days of the year, Agu says. The success of the field depends largely upon the coordination and planning between the staff and volunteers.
And what does it take to make Hanapepe Stadium game ready?
Skilled volunteers design and build oversized stencils with seven-foot high lettering to adorn the midfield and end zones. Painters spend hours stenciling the field by hand to create perfect alignment and symmetry on their 120-yard long canvas, allowing westside residents to feel that Menehune spirit long before game time.
“Many people love this stadium because it’s a homestyle field and the closeness of the action makes fans feel really into the game” Agu says.
Agu claims the stadium seats approximately 5,000 fans, many in the original wooden bleachers built for the stadium in 1966.
The old age of Hanapepe Stadium has been a cause for controversy in recent years. Waimea High School administrators and almuni have complained that the Hawaii High School Athletic Association (HHSAA) insists on having State Championship games played each year at Vidinha Stadium, rather than near their home town in Hanapepe. HHSAA officials claim the field is not only unsafe for fans and officials, but that all State championship games should be played at a neutral field.
Waimea Athletic Director James Kitamura says both claims are unjustified.
“They are saying that Hanapepe does not have a fence to protect players and officials from the public. To me, if an irate fan wants to do something he will, even with a fence present,” Kitamura said. “If there is a safety concern, do you think that we would be allowed to play at Hanapepe?”
According to 15-year veteran official Lenny Rapozo, the last time there has been a major disruption at a Hanapepe football game was in the late 1970s, when thereafter officials had to be escorted by police to and from KIF football games.
“It has gotten much better over the years, though,” Rapozo said. “It’s not that much of a threat anymore.”
And about the home field advantage?
“This issue has always been on the table where the other two league schools want us to play all games at Vidinha. They feel like Hanapepe is our home field, which it is not. It’s county owned,” said Kitamura. “I think our West side people need to know why we are not playing at Hanapepe. Most of the reasons given are just so lame.”
Earlier this year, a press release issued by a County Council candidate claimed the stadium was going to discontinue hosting games at Hanapepe, although the Garden Island later reported the statement was based on hearsay.
“At the time Vidinha Stadium was being built, there was discussion that the games would be centralized in Lihue,” said Mel Nishihara, who heads the Parks and Recreation division of the Kaua’i County Public Works Department. “But any rumors that the KIF will stop playing its football games at Hanapepe are baseless.”
Hanapepe Stadium was criticized for its lighting, as it has five poles to Vidinha’s six. It was also said its bleachers are unsafe for patrons, and that the lack of fencing around the perimeter of the field doesn’t create a barrier between officials and unruly fans.
But according to Nishihara, the bleachers have been repaired and are in fact safe. Agu agrees, claiming the bleachers are in working condition.
“We have our own laid back style where [westsiders] don’t have to be fan crazy,” Agu said. “We don’t really feel there is a problem with safety at this stadium.”