It is the forgotten dynasty of Hawaii high school athletics.
An 18-year run of state domination. Numerous national championships.
And then, 11 years ago, the Lanai physical fitness teams disappeared, like the pineapple fields that were the island’s signature crop.
Lanai still has only about 50 students per grade, but physical fitness is a sport where you don’t need a big student body or big student bodies. It does require commitment and discipline.
“I guess the kids didn’t want to get up in the morning,” Kimo Hanog said.
Rising at 4 a.m. to train for a grueling gauntlet of push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, a 300-meter run and long jump was not an easy sell — especially since most of Lanai’s teenagers are too young to remember that their island OWNED this sport.
“None of them knew what it was,” said Hanog, a 1980 Lanai High and Elementary School graduate and alumnus of the program. “Then when they found out what it was, none of them wanted to do it.”
Funding challenges contributed to the hiatus; it’s not an expensive sport for equipment, but taking a team to the national championships in San Diego annually is costly.
Now there is renewed financial support. And thanks to a coaching staff of alumni headed by Hanog and peer recruiting by his son, Kalei, a junior at Lanai, the Pinelads and Pinelasses are fit to revive their tradition. Thirteen are set to compete at nationals Thursday and Friday.
Kalei had first-hand knowledge of the tradition from his dad and convinced some of his cross country and paddling teammates to give it a shot.
“It’s pretty killer. The latest I ever go to bed is 9:30. I might sacrifice a little free time, but it’s really worth it,” Kalei said. “I’m gaining discipline, good habits, staying out of trouble. You can get a lot from physical fitness.”
For Kimo, it helped him in his first job after graduation from Lanai, when he joined the Marine Corps.
“Their test was a lot easier than what I did in high school,” he said. Having been on the Lanai physical fitness team “made everything easier as an adult. I’m never late for work, always looking for what to do next. It makes you aware. That’s why boot camp wasn’t hard.”
Kimo’s coach was Frank Chester, whom he and others credit with building the foundation of Lanai’s success.
“Anything he touched became excellent. He was able to get into the heads of the kids and make them believe nothing was impossible,” said Dennis Hokama, who was born and raised on Lanai and taught with Chester at LHES. “Frank analyzed what would be required to perform to maximum potential. He just had this really creative mind. He designed a pull-up bar for practice that required extra effort, so when competition came it was easy.”
Chester left Lanai in 1981, after the Pinelasses won the school’s first national championship. He now lives in the San Francisco area and is battling cancer.
“Hopefully he can come down (to San Diego). If not then I will go visit him for sure,” Kimo Hanog said. “He was one of a kind.”
Reach Dave Reardon at firstname.lastname@example.org or 529-4783. His blog is at hawaiiwarriorworld.com/quick-reads.