National champions get heroes’ welcome

Well-wishers mob airport to greet Lihu’e Patriots Pee Wee team

By Dennis Fujimoto – The Garden Island

LIHU’E — Loud, sign-waving, joyous celebrants out-numbered deplaning passengers at the Lihu’e Airport Sunday night as they gathered to welcome home the newly crowned Pop Warner Division II National Champions.

“This is really special,” Councilman Mel Rapozo said. “We’re going to do something special for them.”

Rapozo and Gracie Grace, president of the Lihu’e Pop Warner Association, have already started making plans for a parade at which Kaua’i can celebrate and meet the new champions.

That parade is scheduled for Sunday, Dec. 18 starting at 4 p.m. from the Vidinha Stadium parking lot and ending at the lawn of the historic county building.

“We’re going to be needing a lot of help,” Rapozo said.

“But mostly, we want people to come out and show their support for these new champions.”

David Bice of FM97, who was on hand to get a few quotes from the players and coaches, said, “We found out about it from Flowers Forever when people started ordering all kinds of lei Friday morning.”

Kaua’i Mayor Bryan Baptiste was swallowed up by the crowd of well-wishers who formed a gauntlet from the entry door to the main aisleway at the baggage claim area. The exuberant fans yelled, “Aloha, welcome to Kaua’i” to all incoming passengers.

When the first of the white T-shirted players entered, the audience exploded in cheers. Signs waved and video cameras whirred as the procession of players, coaches and traveling parents made their way onto their home ground.

“It’s undescribable,” one parent said, hoarse from the excitement that started Friday when the Lihu’e Patriots Pee Wee team earned the championship.

“I never had so many leis in my life,” one Patriot player said.

But despite the crescendo of welcome-home wishes, the team took time to gather for one break. And on that break, said, “Thank you, Kaua’i!”

For more information on the upcoming parade, contact Rapozo at 645-0243.

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