LIHUE — Teddy Arroyo’s days typically begin bright and early and don’t end until late.
In addition to running a business as a plumbing contractor, he’s been the commissioner the Kauai Pop Warner Football League for the past five years, overseeing five associations comprised of 15 teams. He also recently finished another season as an assistant football coach at his alma mater — Waimea High School.
He pushes through the grunt work and long hours because he’s dedicated to not only teaching Xs and Os, but using the sport he loves as an avenue to teach about life.
“Football is not your life,” he said. “It’s a life lesson.”
What the 1982 Menehune graduate and former Kauai Interscholastic Federation Defensive Player of the Year offers is 26 years of coaching experience, 16 years in Pop Warner, 12 years in high school, and 10 years of officiating experience.
Through youth sports, he hopes to create opportunities for the young people of Kauai that they couldn’t get otherwise — specifically a chance to attend college and broaden one’s horizons.
”Working hard won’t guarantee you championships, but it will guarantee that you’re not giving up. That’s what we tell a lot of these kids in the community,” Arroyo said. “When the going gets tough, you get tougher.”
Arroyo sat down with The Garden Island and discussed his experiences through the sport of football.
The Garden Island: So, you played football in high school, you have a son who plays in college and another finish his senior year at Waimea. And you coach. Did you come from a family where all the men played football growing up?
Teddy Arroyo: To be honest with you, no. I come from a family that is just hard working in the community. I’m very blessed to have my mom and dad who have been very supportive and encouraged us to play sports to stay out of trouble. I think that’s what a lot of kids in this community are doing.
I come from a big family of 11 (siblings). I think it was only me and my younger brothers who played football. My sisters were more into cheerleading. So you can say we come from a background, a family playing sports — sports all around.
TGI: When I first met you, you said sports is the “backbone” of Kauai. Why do you believe that is?
TA: It’s just, you only get three high schools, right? I’m sorry, four with Island School. It’s competitive. Everybody wants to win. Now with this playoff system — football, baseball, volleyball, now with Division II, you can see that we want to go to the next level. We want to go win the D2 championship. So it’s very competitive, which is good.
Back then in the ’80s, Waimea High School has been dominant in the KIF, all the way into the ’90s. Then Kauai High School came and they became dominant. Kapaa was in and out. They were just one step behind. But now they’re starting to (benefit) from the Pop Warner program. The Pop Warner program actually helped them start to get better kids to come out, be ready to tackle, to block and to catch, to enjoy the sport and get better coaching. That’s what’s happening now.
If you go back and look at the history of Pop Warner (on Kauai), you’re always going to see Hanapepe Pop Warner as the most dominant in the history, and then Kekaha Pop Warner. Back then, it was even on the radio — the games, championship games and all of that. A lot of those kids ended up at Waimea High School.
Then you look at Lihue (Pop Warner), I think it was in the middle 2007 or 2008, Lihue won the Pop Warner national championship. They went to Kauai High School because they came out of Lihue — the trend of kids coming out with the quality of coaches in Pop Warner. Now, you see that happening in Kapaa. If you follow not just high school but Pop Warner, you’ll see the trends slowly come out.
We take pride and support (our teams). On the field, we do the battles. Off the field, “Hey, Kapaa you’re the champs. Congratulations. Hats off to you guys. We’re going to support you guys to represent Kauai.”
It’s the same experience for when Kauai, Kapaa or Waimea goes. When they go there, the whole island supports them. That’s the great part about Kauai. Kauai High School was there last year. Guys from Waimea and Kapaa was there to support.
TGI: Your son, Keenan, spent last year at Kaiser where he won a D2 football championship. Can you talk about what started that process and what led to the decision to letting him go to Oahu?
TA: At that time, me and my wife, we were actually looking at Saint Louis. Just taking him and giving him an opportunity to go with different coaches, be in a different atmosphere and competing at Oahu. We take him to a lot of camps on Oahu. A lot of coaches out there say, “Man, your boy is a good athlete and we’d really like for him to come to our school. We really want to see him compete up here. He can really compete up here.”
There were no promises. Upon making that move, we had to make sure we lived in the district — we had to rent an apartment. Keenan had to live in an apartment by himself. It was tough. Here’s a young man who has an opportunity to get better, but at the same time he had to stay by himself. My wife would fly in every Wednesday and stay until Monday morning. But what came out of that was, I think, he was able to compete at the next level. He was able to win a Division II championship. College coaches (got to watch him play).
I try to explain to parents to take that opportunity. You never know. Don’t go for the big D1 and D2 schools right away. Go for the junior colleges and work your way up. A lot of these junior colleges are recruiting grounds for D1 and D2 schools, and they bring them in right away to help keep their program going, especially new coaches that come in to build a program.
Jordan Dizon from Waimea High School (is an example). He went to Colorado camps for a couple of years because he was staying with his grandparents out there. He got recognized and they gave him a full ride. Went on to get second place for the Butkus Award. He’s a Waimea High School graduate.
There’s athletes on the island. I just really wish there was somebody on this island that could give a class and help parents fill out forms and help them get to the next level.
TGI: So what brought Keenan back to Waimea this year?
TA: I think what people got to understand is that this is his senior year. After graduating, he’s going to be away for college. When they come home, they say, “Dad, we miss you. Mom, we miss you.”
It was a tough decision, but I give my son a lot of credit. It wasn’t easy for him. There’s no doubt Kaiser got lot of accomplishments, TV time and all of that. But coming back to Waimea, he stands by his decision. I stand by my decision. We’re proud to be Waimea graduates.
Like I said, sports on the island helps keep kids out of trouble. For me as the commissioner, I’m trying to take Pop Warner to the next level — trying them to get ready for high school and help them with grades. So when they go to high school, they’re not in a situation where they’re stuck with a 2.0 (grade point average).
We have a scholastic program that helps, but I think we can do more to help at the Pop Warner level.
TGI: So you recently finished another season as assistant coach at Waimea High. I’m sure it wasn’t the season you had hoped for. For those who only see the 0-6 record, what would you tell them about your team?
TA: I would say that this team never gave up. If you watched all of the games, Waimea was always in every game. We didn’t get blown out 50-something to zero.
There was improvement. Hats off to coach Caldiera and the staff. It just seems like when things get close, something unravels — a fumble, a bad special teams play, just one thing. I tell people this: No one promised a championship. We promised improvement.
There’s a lot of factors involved. Sometimes when I read the comments (on the TGI website), I get a little disturbed. They’d say, “They change coach, but it’s the same thing. There’s no change at Waimea.” But you don’t know what these coaches are doing with the kids and how the kids are getting better.
TGI: What other plans do you have with Kauai Pop Warner?
TA: What is our goals as the Kauai Pop Warner Football League? One of the goals is to better the coaches and give them better tools. Educate them. I’m really pleased with them because they realize that this is about the kids. This is not about a coach winning a championship. It’s about the kids and what we can do for them. That’s the way I want Kauai Pop Warner to be.
Nick Celario, sports writer, can be reached at 245-0437 or NCelario@thegardenisland.com.