State tourney berth for Kaua‘i means island-wide support, from rivals and fans alike

Nothing rallies a community more than sports. Sometimes the sport takes you away from home, but the community is still there.

When the Kaua‘i High School softball team played in the Hawai‘i High School Athletic Association state tournament on O‘ahu, the fan base included the South Shore and Westside residents.

“The way I look at it, once a team wins (the Kaua‘i Interscholastic Federation title), it becomes a Kaua‘i thing,” said Mike Koerte.

Koerte was joined by Waimea High School coach Dwight Matsushima and his wife Penny and coach Ted and his wife Tammy. Randy Matsushima, manager for the team, was also in attendance.

Some of the Waimea High School softball players joined the Waimea contingent. “They’re here to support and keep our dreams open for next year,” said Koerte.

Koerte and Kaua‘i High coach Darrell Borrero took a team to Kansas two years ago. Koerte said he developed a bond with some of the girls who now play for Kaua‘i and Chelsea Rapozo-Delacruz, a Kaua‘i girl playing for Maryknoll — the Raiders’ opponent in the state finals.

Koerte said the three teams on Kaua‘i are rivals and are all business on the field, but off the field, they support each other.

Koerte said the parents are intense and get excited at games, but when it’s all over, they support all the student-athletes.

Lonnie Oke-tani has been a supportive mom since her daughter Randi, the third baseman for Kaua‘i, started playing T-ball at 5 years old, following the natural progression of her three older brothers who played T-ball in Koloa before her.

For Oketani, it meant taking Randi to practice everyday, providing snacks and being at every game.

“In Koloa, it’s a big thing,” Oketani said. But the strong parental support made a difference.

“No matter what, parental support makes everything stronger,” Oketani said.

Oketani said she continues to provide support now that Randi is in high school, where sports, academics and life are more competitive. She stresses the need for a college degree, which is something her mom taught her.

Grandma Toshie Daida was at the state tournament to support her grandchild. “I am so happy to be here,” she said. “I didn’t think they would come this far.”

Daida, 87, sat through the rain-delayed first game.

“I’ve never been to a game like that,” she said. “It rained continuously.”

The girls were slipping and sliding in the mud during the first game, their lucky championship uniforms filthy, but they wore them to finish the game the next day. Lonnie Oketani, Keiko Doi and Joy Kouchi started the laundry at 10:30 p.m. and finished at 3 a.m.

“The girls wanted them, and you gotta support them,” Oke-tani said.

Community support also came from Brenden Hew, a 2006 WHS graduate and former catcher for the Menehune baseball team. He flew to O‘ahu to support his girlfriend, Samantha Koga, the catcher for the Red Raiders. His support did not include any tips.

“She gives me tips,” Hew said.

Caycie Pascual of Koloa, Koga’s cousin, was there to cheer Koga on because “it’s her senior year.” Pascual was one of 15 family members there for Koga and her teammates.

Support and commitment weren’t exclusive to South Shore and Westside Kauaians. Warren Okinaka, one of two umpires-in-charge for the Division II softball tournament, said the 27 umpires were nominated from the OIA Softball Association and Junior Olympics Umpire Association to referee the games.

“Those nominated showed the most interest and commitment to the program,” Okinaka said. They show commitment by always being available and attending training sessions, he said.

They often go beyond just umpiring. Okinaka pointed out that the men sweeping the infield and lining the field to get it ready for Kaua‘i High’s rain-delayed game were umpires volunteering to help.

Okinaka, an umpire of 30 years, said umpires understand that each call pleases half the people and displeases the other half. They maintain a level of confidence that allows them to know how to handle themselves, he said.

Like the committed, supportive group from the South Shore and Westside, Okinaka got started supporting his own children and has extended that support to all student-athletes.

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