Never mind that the announcers called them "Wipe-O" instead of Waipio and mangled almost everyone’s name.
Never mind the snarky online comments from Texas fans who accused Hawaii of putting bad juju in the "good luck necklaces" they gave their opponents before Saturday’s game (uh, those were lei, pardners, not so much for luck, but for aloha. So, aloha).
Never mind the tiresome pineapple references by the broadcasters, the well-worn comments about the sunny weather back home, the long, uncomfortable aside about the 2001 Ehime Maru tragedy and the retro slide guitar music played during the prepackaged intros.
The essence of the Waipio All-Stars’ Hawaii-ness went beyond all cliches. The players were stalwarts on the field, resourceful when they were down, gracious in both victory and defeat. That is what Hawaii is about on our best days. That is what those kids and their parents were about for all the time it took to get to Sunday’s big game and all the way back home.
People who aren’t from Hawaii often feel Hawaii is an easy place to know. Pineapples, surf, hula girls. What else could there be? And people who live in the islands are often too kind to correct incorrect assumptions.
Like the obvious pain with which Waipio manager Brian Yoshii asked for a review of a call in one of the playoff games against Georgia. Yoshii knew he was right, but he almost apologized to the ump for suggesting he was wrong.
Perhaps the most telling televised moment in Waipio’s run for the glory was in the seconds after Friday’s victory over Georgia, a team they had to play three times in the tournament. As the players jumped in celebration of their win, the coaches barked out to them, "Humble! Humble! Be humble!" It was an astonishing moment to witness. There aren’t many times in our world when victors are told in the moment of victory that more important than the win is the character of a winner. You might read those kinds of anecdotes in the magazines at the dentist’s office or in forwarded e-mails, but there it was, playing out on live national television, the Waipio coaches reminding their kids to respect the dignity of their opponents, of the game and of their own efforts.
Of course, not everyone in Hawaii is that way. We’re an island community made of unique individuals with different opinions, values and beliefs. But if we’re going to be about something, if there’s a symbol for what is wonderful about Hawaii, it’s not the pineapple or the palm trees or the hard-to-pronounce names. Let us be known for the grace and spirit those kids showed in the big game. That’s what Hawaii should mean to the world.
Lee Cataluna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.