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Humble heroes

A parade through Waipio Gentry lauds the winning ways of young champions

By Dan Nakaso

LAST UPDATED: 2:00 a.m. HST, Sep 13, 2010

Hundreds of supporters from Central and Leeward Oahu celebrated the achievements yesterday of eight youth champions, including the Waipio Little League All-Stars, whose manager reminded the boys to remain humble and grateful and to give back to their community.

When his team returned from South Williamsport, Pa. -- and again before yesterday's "Parade of Champions" in Waipio Gentry -- manager Brian Yoshii reminded his 13 players that they were privileged to have represented the islands before a national television audience in the Little League World Series at the tender ages of 12 and 13.

"When so much is given to you, so much is expected," Yoshii told the boys. "They've all grown so much from this experience."

Even with Waipio's 4-1 loss to Japan in the Aug. 29 Little League World Series title game, Waipio Gentry businesses and fans hoisted signs yesterday honoring the boys as the U.S. Little League World Series champs.

Unlike parades through Waikiki to honor young athletes, the Parade of Champions at Waipio Gentry was a low-key, local-style celebration that included six other youth teams and Golden Gloves Champion boxer Keoni Adric Jr.

"Most tourists wouldn't know who they are," said City Councilman Nestor Garcia, who represents Waikele, Waipahu, Village Park, Makakilo, Kunia and Mililani Town. "Here, it's right in our own back yard, where these young athletes are from."

Keoni sat in the back of a car with three of his boxing belts, while baseball, softball and volleyball teams rode in trolleys along Waipio Uka Street toward the Patsy Mink Central Oahu Regional Park.

The Waipio Little Leaguers trailed the rest of the teams in a historic red fire engine from the Hono-lulu Fire Department's McCully-Moiliili station.

The front and driver's side of the rig carried separate banners the players had earned, proclaiming them West Little League Champions and United States World Series Champions.

Yesterday's parade sent a powerful message to Hawaii's children, especially those from Leeward and Central Oahu, said state Sen. Will Espero (D, Ewa Beach-Waipahu):

"If you work hard, anything can happen," Espero said. "You can even be a world champion. These athletes are role models, whether they realize it or not."

From the lofty perch of their red fire engine, the players from the Waipio All-Star team threw candy down to dozens of people who lined the street in their honor.

Mackenzie Oswalt, 5, sat on the sidewalk, drinking in the parade with eyes wide and mouth agape. When the Waipio Little Leaguers rode past in their powder-blue jerseys and ball caps, Mackenzie's face broke out in a huge smile.

"She saw them on TV and loves them," said her mother, Kia Oswalt.

When they jumped off the fire engine at Central Oahu Regional Park, the Little Leaguers were swarmed by children and adults who wanted them to pose for pictures and sign photos, baseballs and bats.

Robbie Kia and Shaydan Lovediro -- teammates from the Waipio Yankees tee ball team for 5- and 6-year-olds -- scoured the park yesterday, hoping for autographs from their favorite Waipio players.

"They want to be just like them," said Robbie's dad, Frankie Kia.

The players, in turn, were ready for the attention.

Yoshii had told the boys "to be humble," said 12-year-old pitcher/catcher Keolu Ramos. "'We should respect what we've been given and give back.'"

And to earn their place as unwitting, young role models.

"Little kids look up to them," said Waipio tee ball coach Steve Mulgrew as he held up his 2-year-old pit bull, Esther, to wave to the boys. "They saw them on TV and want to be just like them."

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