Kaleb Loea Panui displayed shyness, bashfulness and silence Friday when Mayor Derek Kawakami announced Sept. 24 as Kaleb Loea Panui Day to congratulate and recognize the boy’s efforts at the USA Baseball National Team Identification Series in Cary, North Carolina.
“This is quite an honor,” Kawakami said. “We don’t just give out special commemorative days. Kaleb might be the youngest person to have a day named after him.”
Kaleb was participating in Hawai‘i Little League state games with his Kawaihau Community Little League All Stars when he was notified that he qualified for the 2021 Hawai‘i USA Baseball NTIS Tryouts following his participation in the tryouts in May. He was the sole qualifier from Hawai‘i on the 11-and-under roster.
The NTIS includes six age groups of players from across the county who start the identification process through participating in tryouts at the local level in their designated region.
Every region names between 32 to 36 athletes from each age group to two All-Region teams that participate in the NTIS Champions Cup that contests at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, North Carolina. During this play, 12 teams from each age group participate in a championship-style tournament in August while being evaluated by national team coaches and scouts.
Following his eligibility notification, Kaleb worked daily on his infield game, batting, speed, and agility in preparation for the NTIS Champions Cup.
On arrival in Cary, Panui discovered he was the only Hawai‘i player on the 11-and-under roster while meeting his coaches and teammates.
The Southwest Stars, Kaleb’s team, took every game leading to the championship contest against the South Stripes, and Panui contributed with performances pitching and playing shortstop, second and third base throughout the tourney,
In the championship contest, the Southwest Stars were chasing four runs in the fourth inning before coming back to win with a walk-off hit to edge the South Stripes 5-4 for the gold medal.
Kawakami said through the support of Panui’s family, friends, coaches Micah Furtado, Duke Sardinha, John Melchor, Travis Shigeta, Joshua Martin and, of course, his parents Kaili and Mandi Panui, along with the entire community, Panui was able to experience an opportunity of a lifetime, playing with and against some of the best youth players in the country.
“His efforts and hard work led him to a gold-medal victory,” Kawakami said while announcing Sept. 24 as Kaleb Loea Panui Day. “Mahalo and congratulations, Kaleb, on representing Kaua‘i with honor, humility and aloha. On behalf of Kaua‘i, we are all so proud of you.”
Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.