While the Waipio Little League team battled yesterday for the U.S. title at the Little League World Series in Pennsylvania, Zena Besas and several relatives gathered at the Mililani Golf Course Clubhouse to cheer on the hometown boys.
"We’re here for the whole Waipio town," Besas said, rubbing her arms at the beginning of the game to settle goose bumps of excitement. " I’m here to support them. I’m here to support any child doing good for Hawaii."
She doesn’t know any of the boys on the team, but she joined the dozens of fans to watch the game via a large-screen projector that was donated for the day. Some spectators were coaches and supporters of a Waipio tee ball division that delayed their game a few hours so they could catch the title game.
Spectators slapped high-fives as Waipio beat Texas 10-0 in five innings in a game shortened by the mercy rule.
With the win, Waipio advances to today’s world championship, playing international champ Japan in South Williamsport, Pa. Local fans said they plan to be back at the Mililani Golf Course Clubhouse, rooting for the team playing about 5,000 miles away.
For Tim Yee, who coached four of the players now on the all-star team, yesterday’s win was like a dream.
"Every day, we’re on borrowed time," he said of the team that faced elimination in five straight games. "You’ve got one more free game. That’s awesome. They’ve earned this spot."
He paid particular attention to his four former players: Kaho’ea Akau, Ty DeSa, Shiloh Baniaga and Cody Maltezo.
"It’s fulfilling to see what we worked so hard as a league to do," he said. "It really cements that we’re doing the right thing."
Others said the sense of community in the league is part of its success.
"We’re all park rats," said Kellie Kobashigawa, whose daughter plays in the Waipahu league. They often spend entire days at the park for games, then relax afterward, she said.
"That’s what’s awesome about the kids. Whether they win or lose, they are always together," Kobashigawa said. "Our whole families are involved. It really takes a whole group effort."
Her 12-year-old daughter, Corey Ann, said even after a Waipio team beat her Waipahu team by 29 points, the Waipio players spent the rest of the day hanging out with her team.
"It’s amazing because it’s like, ‘Wow, I know these kids,’" Corey Ann said. "They’re like my friends. I’m just cheering all the time."
Dexter Choy was at the clubhouse when Waipio beat Georgia on Friday and, after watching yesterday’s win there, planned to return today.
"We’ll be back again for breakfast and entertainment," said Choy, a retiree from Mililani. He enjoyed the large lead against Texas.
"This is more comfortable; yesterday was squeezing," he said.
But he found something more profound in the games than just local kids making their mark at the national level.
"If you watch these young ones play, it’s the purest form of competition. They just go out there with all their heart," he said. "They’re just at the beginning stages of their career, but they way they handle themselves. It’s more exciting and more real to me."
Waipio is playing for a chance to win its second Little League World Series (it won in 2008) and become the third team from Hawaii to win the championship in six years. Ewa Beach won the championship in 2005.
At the clubhouse, acting Mayor Kirk Caldwell announced that the city will hold a parade for the team when it returns; details will be announced later.
Stephen Masuhara, president of Waipio Little League, commended team manager Brian Yoshii for his calm demeanor in leading the team, despite tense moments.
Masuhara said it’s been a long postseason for the boys, who started training for the all-star team on June 15, then competed in the district, state and Western region playoffs before arriving in South Williamsport.
"One pressure cooker after another, all the way," he said. "It helps the kids get better."
He believes today’s matchup with Japan will be an interesting game, with both teams good at defense.
"They’re almost a mirror image of each other," he said.