Hawaiian high school team makes 2,800-mile journey for game against Desert Hills

ST. GEORGE — It was not your typical road trip for a high school football team.

Kealakehe High School, from Kailua-Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii some 2,800 miles away, traveled to St. George to play Desert Hills Friday night.

The unusual matchup was arranged through mutual contacts and friends in Hawaii and Utah.

Kealakehe High School head football coach Sam Kekuaokalani brought his team from Hawaii to St. George to play Desert Hills High School and to give his players a look at college academics and sports with stops at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Dixie State University and Southern Utah University, Aug. 30, 2018, St. George, Utah | Photo by Aaron Crane, St. George News

“Conley Gali at Snow Canyon and Troy Coil, the former athletic director at Desert Hills, were a big help in making it happen,” said Kealakehe coach Sam Kekuaokalani.

Snow Canyon offered its facilities to the visitors Wednesday and then hosted the team for dinner that night. The team practiced again at the Warriors field Thursday afternoon.

“The morning practice today (Thursday) was canceled,” said Kealakehe athletic director Alan Vogt. “Yesterday was a long day.”

The team flew overnight from Honolulu directly to Las Vegas Tuesday where the team members visited the University of Nevada Las Vegas campus before arriving in St. George.

“It was more of an academic visit than athletic,” Vogt said. “We wanted the kids to experience life on the mainland at a different level. Some of them would have preferred to see the athletic facilities, but we wanted them to see the academic facilities and dorms.”

Kekuaukalani said the school brought 30 team members and about eight coaches and staff. The contingent took up 14 rooms at the Red Lion in St. George.

Several parents also made the trip, but didn’t stay in St. George.

“When we talked about the trip, there was some hesitation until we pointed out it was only an hour and half from Las Vegas,” Vogt said. “That sold it.”

The parents are in Vegas and will come up for the game,” Kekuaokalani added.

The trip was financed completely by the school’s football program, Vogt noted.

The school has about 1,300 students. On the Big Island there are seven teams and three eight-man teams.

“We try to play nine games, but it’s hard to schedule games because there aren’t that many schools,” Kekuaokalani said.

He also said they have played some games on Oahu but are the first team from the Big Island to ever play on the mainland.

The team’s game last week was rained out by Hurricane Lane. However, the storm didn’t damage any school facilities or homes of the team members.

“Everyone and everything was safe, but it closed things down for five days straight,” Kekuaokalani said.

On Friday, the WaveRiders visited the facilities at Dixie State University and plan to attend the Southern Utah University football game Saturday night in Cedar City before returning home Sunday.

“They’ll get to see things on three different levels,” Vogt noted. “Most of these kids have never been to the mainland. This trip will let them experience a different world.”

Kekuaokalani, who is in his fifth year as head coach, said the school has sent about 17 players to the mainland in the past two decades to play for Division 1 schools such as Utah, Washington and Tennessee.

While the football game was the focus of the trip for many, Vogt said the emphasis was on academics and was more of “a business trip than fun, although we’re having fun.”

Vogt said that falls in line with the coach’s teaching methods. “Sam is more of a coach in developing good people. And, that’s what this trip is about,” Vogt said.

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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