‘It was a real thrill’

PRINCEVILLE — Prior to making Kauai his home in the 1960s, Donn “Curly” Carswell was a standout football player for Interscholastic League of Honolulu’s Punahou.

“We only had eight schools, the ILH. Didn’t have any other outside schools. There was no Kahuku, Waianae and places like that,” Carswell said about his high school days.

During his time with the Buff and Blue, Carswell said there was one team he looked forward to playing against the most.

“It was between Punahou and (Kamehameha School),” he said. “We beat Kam School on Thanksgiving Day. We beat them in the final game. They beat us in the beginning, and then I think we tied Kaimuki or something. So, they had the points.”

His senior season in 1953, Punahou finished second, behind Kamehameha, in the ILH. Soon after, he got an NROTC scholarship to Stanford University in California.

“It was real thrill. We had John Brodie and Paul Wiggin. They went on to play pro football. Brodie went on to play for the 49ers — played quarterback. And Wiggin played for the Browns,” Carswell said.

During his college career, one of his most memorable moments was beating national powerhouse Ohio State on national TV his junior year.

In his senior year, Stanford topped USC and Carswell got the game ball. He called that game ball his “prized possession.”

But unfortunately, Carswell injured his knee against the Trojans. He sat out the next three games before he suited up in the “Big Game” against Cal.

“Joe Kapp was (Cal’s) quarterback, and we lost by a point,” he said.

Soon after, Carswell participated in the Hula Bowl. During play, he got one of the more memorable plays of the day.

“I juked him. I’ll never forget this. I tackled their running back, Johnny Olszewski. He played for Cal. I got him three yards deep in the backfield. I nailed him. Just a good hit,” he said. “I played in the old Honolulu Stadium — the Termite Palace they called it. The local crowd just loved it. I got a big rush when that happened. Then about three plays later, I was out because my knee went.”

After he graduated from Stanford with a degree in civil engineering in 1958, Carswell joined the Marine Corps and served for five years — three in California and two overseas. During that time, he played service ball for a year.

“We played a bunch of colleges that didn’t have games, and a couple of semipro teams like Eagle Rock Athletic Club,” he said. “We played some Arizona colleges. It was a pretty good league. Bunch of guys in the Marine Corps went pro.”

After he retired from the Marine Corps, he made Kauai his home.

“My wife has roots here. Her parents have family roots here. There’s something about Kauai. A lot of times in vacation periods, we’d come up here and hike up at Kalalau,” he said. “We’d go to the other islands, too, but Kauai has a certain pull for us. And our kids are all here. My four kids are all within seven miles of us.”

Among his accomplishments since coming to the Garden Isle, he helped build the original building of the Kauai Athletic Club in 1987.

“It’s now an office building. We sold the club in 2012, ” he said. “We went through the tough times in 2008-2009. A lot of people left the island, and membership was decimated. First thing people do, well they shouldn’t but they do, is give up on health memberships and things like that. That’s the thing they should keep.”

Carswell also helped establish a local handball club in 1986. He first picked up the sport while living in San Diego during the 1960s.

“I was in the Marine Corps. I was overseas, and I came back to San Diego to recruit people there. They had handball courts. That’s where I started playing,” he said. “Then I came back over here, and started to look at what the sport was doing as far as fitness. I visited a lot of fitness clubs on the West Coast.”

Today, a “hardcore” few still play on Sundays in Kekaha.

These days, he occasionally helps his family at Princeville Ranch Adventures and still does consulting and engineering. He also volunteers at Kokee State Park.

Despite a total of nine surgeries to his knees, Carswell remains as active as he can.

“You got to keep your foot in the door. You got to keep active,” he said.

While reflecting on his football career, Carswell said today’s game is far more advanced.

“It’s light-years different. It’s a lot more complex. The guys are bigger,” he said. “I always had these dreams that I get called back to play, you know? I get there for practice and I’m looking up at these guys. Nobody would talk to me because I’m just a runt. These guys are all over 300 pounds. I played at 220 as a nose guard, which was about average size then.”

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