It could have been the most miserable high school football game of the season. Maybe ever.
The blasts of warm rain soaked the Kaiser High School stadium so that by the fourth quarter, the middle of the field looked like a bowl of chocolate pudding. Members of the Kaiser band, they of the sweltering classroom with the broken AC, were soggy before they even started playing. It was Kaiser’s homecoming, but because of the rain and the mud, the halftime festivities were canceled. The Friday night game was not canceled, however, though the cheerleaders wore plastic ponchos and the kid in the Kaiser mascot costume had to occasionally wring out his cougar tail.
But worst of all, the visiting team, McKinley, was coming off a 90-0 loss the week before and a 78-0 loss the week before that. What do you say to your son after a 90-0 loss?
McKinley team mom Shanel Samuelu stood up on her seat almost the whole night. She has two sons playing JV, a daughter on the cheering squad and her boy DJ plays varsity. She alternated between taking videos with her cellphone, passing out Spam musubis to her friends and cheering for the boys.
Alex Amina was part of Samuelu’s group, along with his son Kaneala Paro-Cambra, who played for McKinley last year as a senior.
“After the game, the team moms make them potluck. All kind food, even deep-fried Oreos,” Amina said. “I told them if they keep Kaiser under 40 points tonight, I’ll buy them deep-fried Twinkies.” Amina beamed with the thrill of this promise.
Higher up in the stands, Gina Jones watched her son Raden play both O and D line for the Tigers. The squad was down so many players that there seemed to be more McKinley jerseys on the field than on the sidelines. “My son had the chance to play for another school,” Jones said. “He refused. He said he just wants play with this team, win or lose. They want to be out there together.”
New coach Sam Cantiberos set strict directives for his team. No one getting a D in any class, including electives, gets to play. No one with a bad attitude gets to play. “The message to the kids is, ‘We need you, but not that much,’” Amina said. “They want to win, but not that way.”
Most of the starters are not currently playing.
The parents in the stands — the ones whose sons made the cut — admire Cantiberos for sticking to his word.
Sam Kapu whispered under his breath to his son Elijah, an outside linebacker, while his little daughter copied the cheerleader’s moves next to him in the stands. “Come on, Elijah. Let’s go, Elijah.”
In high school in the ’80s, Kapu played for Saint Louis. “I’m not used to losing,” he said, smiling. A pastor at New Hope Voyager, Kapu has used the McKinley team as a metaphor in his sermons. Yes, it’s not easy to play again after a 90-point loss, but “that’s life, too,” he said. “You have to go out there and try to make a play. You can’t look at the scoreboard.” The first game of the season, McKinley lost 73-14 to Mililani, but Kapu’s son scored one of the touchdowns. Kapu has been holding on to that moment all season.
Samuelu said there have been lots of prayer for the boys. “We ask for strength, wisdom, safety and, mostly, perseverance,” she said. “And a touchdown,” Paro-Cambra muttered. Everyone around him laughed.
Friday night’s game could have been miserable, but it really wasn’t. The rain eased up to an intermittent drizzle and by the second quarter, the halftime show was on again, though the homecoming queen walked barefoot because of the mud. In the stands, Amina danced, cheered and ate. The field was so muddy that the ball popped out of hands and players fell without being tackled. “That mud is working to our advantage,” Amina said, full of optimism.
Game announcer Jimmy Hutcherson was candid over the stadium speakers: “Gee, I wish I could see those numbers because that was a great tackle by that young man.”
At the end of the night, McKinley’s white jerseys could not have been more muddy if they had been marinated overnight. There would be no running to the visitors’ locker room for showers, though. They’d have to wait until they got back to their campus. They used a hose on the side of the Kaiser field to wash off the bigger clots of mud before boarding the bus. The scoreboard read 32-0. There would be Twinkies.