comscore At ‘Iolani, this ‘Snake’ was a charismatic, gentle giant | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Ferd's Words

At ‘Iolani, this ‘Snake’ was a charismatic, gentle giant

Honolulu Star-Advertiser logo
Unlimited access to premium stories for as low as $12.95 /mo.
Get It Now

At 6 feet, 6 inches, Jerry Lafaele Scanlan towered above classmates at ‘Iolani School in the 1970s but the esteem in which he was held rose even higher.

Atop the makai side of the student center roof some of those classmates painted a snake on racing wheels — large enough to be visible to passing aircraft — that endured for decades as a tribute to the one they called “The Snake.” 

Scanlan, a larger than life yet remarkably humble figure who played for the Raiders, the University of Hawaii and Washington Redskins, died Wednesday night at age 58 following a bout with colorectal cancer, classmates said.

Services are pending for Scanlan, who worked for an alternative energy company in Arizona and was a restaurant manager on Oahu.   

When Scanlan arrived at ‘Iolani in the seventh grade from Waipahu, “he was like 6-foot, 1-inch, already,” said Kerry Wong, an upperclassman. “By his freshman year he was 6-4.” But as much as he stood out for his size and readily apparent athletic abilities, Scanlan was embraced for his easygoing warmth and charismatic personality. 

“He was always very keenly observant of other people’s emotional state and what he did impacted them,” Wong said. “He behaved in a way to try and always make the people around him feel better.”

Peter Tawarahara, a classmate since the seventh grade, said, “He just had this smile, one that you couldn’t forget, and a great laugh. He was a very happy-go-lucky guy and it rubbed off (on others).”

As a sophomore (freshmen weren’t allowed to play varsity) Scanlan played both ways on the line in helping the Raiders to the 1972 ILH football title. 

“He was tall and skinny but very strong, very dependable,” said Harris Nakamoto, who lined up next to Scanlan and marveled at his abilities. 

But while Scanlan also excelled in track and field and sang in the choir, his passion was basketball. He was an all-state selection whose performance helped lift the student body. Classmates formed “The Snake Pit” rooting section in the ‘Iolani Gym and at the Honolulu International Center, as the Blaisdell Arena was known, to cheer the team. 

In memory of the times, classmates were planning “Snake Pit” T-shirts for the 40th reunion later this month. 

At UH, where he alternated between offensive tackle and tight end, Scanlan was an inspiration and a 255-pound building block. 

Scanlan was among a dedicated core of players who stuck around through the turmoil of coaching changes and athletic department upheaval of 1977 to build a foundation for entering the Western Athletic Conference. 

For Dick Tomey, who took over the program June 28, 1977, and had to re-recruit a roster, Scanlan and Blane Gaison were among those who became pacesetters, often agreeing to play multiple positions. 

“We had a few guys do that and Jerry was just one of the very first that was willing,” Tomey said. “He was good at it and it made a difference. The more you saw of him the more you loved what you saw. He was just a really good team guy. He was a tremendously big part of an outstanding group of young men we cherish,” Tomey said. 

Teammates voted him offensive team captain as a senior and he earned WAC and Hula Bowl honors before making the Redskins, where he played for two seasons on the offensive line.

On the mauka side of the roof at ‘Iolani, opposite where “The Snake” was displayed, Scanlan’s classmates also painted a “’75” in recognition of their senior class.  

In what became a tradition at ‘Iolani, subsequent graduating classes painted over the “’75” adding their own number each year. 

But it wasn’t until the roof was remodeled decades later, that anybody touched the snake.

Reach Ferd Lewis at or 529-4820.

Comments have been disabled for this story...

Click here to see our full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak. Submit your coronavirus news tip.

Be the first to know
Get web push notifications from Star-Advertiser when the next breaking story happens — it's FREE! You just need a supported web browser.
Subscribe for this feature

Scroll Up