The address for pickup basketball in South Maui has officially changed from Kalama Park to Liloa Drive.
Players no longer need to protect themselves from the outdoor elements at Kalama’s side-by-side concrete courts, thanks to the opening of the South Maui Community Park Gymnasium. The gym, with its spacious hardwood floors and central air conditioning, is getting rave reviews since opening 60 days ago.
The project, which took more than 20 years of planning and procedure, is a polished gem and the county’s first new gymnasium in 47 years.
“This gym is a really shining star for Maui County,” said Mayor Michael Victorino during the Dec. 9 blessing. “This is the first gym ever built in South Maui. You deserve it; it’s long overdue.”
The facility includes two full-size basketball/volleyball courts and can be configured as four cross courts with electronic-curtain dividers.
Maui County’s 10th gymnasium came with a $21.4 million price tag and is the first gym built on the Valley Isle since the Lahaina Civic Center in 1972.
For Kihei resident Roger Luna, 26, an admitted “gym rat” who never played organized basketball in high school or college, the South Maui gym is long overdue and a big hit among ballers islandwide.
“There’s no discrimination; anybody can play,” said Luna, referring to the open court time from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
“Going to Kalama Park growing up, I got to understand how adults actually play this (pickup) game. You learn about your place. It can get real physical, but it’s nice, it’s a different environment,” said Luna, who shows up religiously four times a week. “This is my second home.”
Former county recreation chief Kaeo Ah Sau said the first major event planned for the South Maui Community Park Gymnasium is Victorino’s 2020 State of the County address on Tuesday. The public is welcome to attend the program, which begins at 6 p.m. and will air live on Akaku Maui Community Media Channel 53 and stream on its website.
Ah Sau said he recalls a 2004 meeting on plans for a gym in South Maui, which at the time resembled the King Kekaulike High School gym. “And every time we met, the plans for the gym kept getting bigger, and the cost got bigger, too,” he said.
At last month’s blessing the mayor said the gym can accommodate 3,805 people as an emergency shelter and can withstand a Category 3 hurricane with maximum winds of 129 mph.
“During weekdays we average about 30 players,” Luna said. “There are all kinds of guys, but mostly guys who have played college or high school.”
Jake Bower, 27, lives in Lahaina and works in the restaurant industry in Kaanapali.
“I usually play at the Civic Center, but this place is so beautiful. We’ve been coming here four times a week because the gym is nice, good air conditioning, beautiful court, good competition,” remarked the former junior college basketball player from Michigan.
“There’s a good core group of guys, around 15 guys, who play here three times a week. So it’s a good competition to battle against friends. You have to win to stay on (the court), so it’s more competitive than other gyms that I’ve been to on Maui. If you lose, you could sit for as long as 30 minutes. Because there’s a lot of guys who want to play, that makes it even more competitive.”
Former Maui High-Lahainaluna standout Cheyne De La Garza honed his skills at Kalama Park while his father played pickup games at night. Now 35, he is the founder of the Maui Basketball Academy.
“I love basketball and I love kids, so this is my way of giving back to the community,” said De La Garza, who started his academy a year ago.
“This facility is amazing. It has really sparked basketball on Maui. A lot of people are just showing up. Tuesday nights there’s 70 guys here. People from all over the island are coming here.
“There are games on all four courts, and they play music. So there’s music coming from the (wireless) speakers in the ceiling while everybody is playing basketball,” said Luna about the open nights from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays. “This is what the basketball community on Maui needed.”
“It’s been long overdue, and I’m just grateful that it’s here,” Bowers said. “It’s really beautiful. It doesn’t feel like you’re on Maui. This beautiful, big gym kind of takes you out of the everyday grind that we all go through living here. … Plus, you get to see people you haven’t seen in a while; it’s a good way to catch up with friends.”