Followers decked in purple streamed into the Lahainaluna Excessive College soccer stadium, snacking on nachos and venison chili, bopping to the highschool band’s rendition of “Candy Caroline,” and exchanging lengthy hugs with neighbors and classmates.
It was homecoming, and for most of the followers, coaches, and the gamers themselves, being again on the stadium was the closest factor to feeling at dwelling because the deadliest United States wildfire in additional than a century leveled their city.
“I don’t know if I can put into phrases how a lot it means to Lahaina,” mentioned offensive lineman Morgan “Bula” Montgomery, who has lived in three completely different motels together with his household since their condominium constructing burned down. “Simply wanting within the stands, you see all of the old-timers popping out, all of the alumni and even the little children – simply all type of excited, ready for that first snap.”
Lessons resumed final week at Lahainaluna Excessive and on the two different public colleges that survived the Aug. 8 hearth, and on Saturday evening, Lahainaluna’s varsity and junior varsity soccer groups performed their first dwelling video games, each therapeutic wins, giving the group a glimmer of hope amid a tragedy that claimed at the least 99 lives.
Tickets for homecoming on the 3,000–particular person–capability stadium offered out in seven minutes, mentioned Principal Richard Carosso – a sign of how badly the group wanted it.
Perched on a hillside, the college will get its identify from its location overlooking historic Lahaina: “Luna” means “above” in Hawaiian.
Earlier than the fireplace, followers on the stadium may see the lights twinkling from the neighborhoods down beneath. Now, as soon as the solar goes down, there may be darkness.
As Mary-Ann Kobatake arrived on the stadium to cheer on her son, No. 33 James Lukela–Kobatake, she refused to look towards the devastated city, the place her own residence was among the many 2,200 buildings that burned.
“I no like look over there,” she mentioned in Hawaii Pidgin, spoken by many within the crowd.
However being again on campus was comforting for the 1993 Lahainaluna graduate: “We nonetheless have a spot we will come dwelling to,” she mentioned.
It was for Heather Filikitonga, too. A 2001 graduate and mom of a JV participant, she may see the gutted stays of her condominium constructing from the stands.
“If they will get on the sector and discover some normalcy of their life,” she mentioned of the gamers, “then I can do the identical.”
Much like highschool soccer in different American small cities, Lahainaluna’s powerhouse program is a supply of satisfaction. It received 4 state titles from 2016–2019. It’s an equalizer for teenagers from numerous backgrounds and one thing to do in a coastal city the place nation–reggae blares from lifted pickup vehicles.
“Younger boys dream about at some point carrying the purple and white and representing Lahainaluna,” mentioned Keith Amemiya, a Honolulu financial institution govt who’s spearheading the Luna Robust fundraising marketing campaign for the 450 pupil–athletes and coaches whose properties had been destroyed.
Tevainui Loft, a 17–12 months–previous tight finish and linebacker, grew up watching Lahainaluna soccer within the stands overlooking his hometown. The video games had been all the time packed. “I keep in mind entering into sixth grade – finest instances of my life,” he mentioned.
A couple of days earlier than donning his No. 9 uniform within the homecoming sport, he mirrored on the brand new view from the sector.
“I’ve been at follow the final couple days, simply wanting on the facet like on water breaks, simply taking a look at Lahaina – all simply gone,” he mentioned. “It’s so bizarre to me that it’s all gone.”
His mom’s dwelling burned, however his father’s dwelling away from the burn zone survived. He aspires to play Division I school soccer, and he was heartbroken at the potential for the season being canceled. “If there wasn’t a season, I didn’t know what I used to be going to do with myself,” he mentioned.
Mr. Amemiya is aware of the Lahainaluna soccer program nicely, having attended many events hosted by coaches over time and having been in command of Hawaii highschool sports activities from 1998 to 2010. He pushed the coaches to not cancel the season.
“In the event that they one way or the other may have a soccer season, it could function an inspiration and a rallying level for the whole group,” he mentioned. “In instances of tragedy, sports activities can have a therapeutic impact, not just for the group however the gamers and coaches as nicely.”
After the fireplace, “soccer was the furthest factor from my thoughts,” mentioned Garret Tihada, one of many coaches, a 1987 Lahainaluna graduate. The house he grew up in burned down.
However a number of days later he received a name from Mr. Amemiya. Mr. Tihada began to speaking to gamers, fellow coaches, and group members: “They had been saying, ‘We’d like soccer again. We’d like one thing to stay up for.’”
The groups quickly resumed practices, first in a health club in Kahului and later at a park in Kihei, the group about 45 minutes away the place highschool college students attended lessons throughout Lahainaluna’s closure.
Bula Montgomery, the offensive lineman, mentioned it’s been robust seeing his mother, Tamara Montgomery, navigate the fireplace’s destruction on her personal with 4 children. His father died in 2019. However understanding that almost all of his teammates face related circumstances has helped: “It doesn’t really feel like I’m alone on this.”
Bula is uncertain of his plans after highschool. He’d prefer to play soccer or wrestle in school. He’s contemplating the College of Hawaii’s provide of full scholarships to each Lahainaluna senior.
Earlier than the sport, the Reverend Ai Hironaka appeared out from the stands into the ruins of the city.
“The gamers will fill the ‘puka’ of the center, he mentioned, utilizing a Hawaiian phrase for “gap.”
Watching the junior varsity staff beat Baldwin Excessive College 16–10 after which his son’s varsity staff win 28–7 helped Mr. Hironaka neglect for a number of hours about shedding his dwelling and the Japanese Buddhist temple the place he was the resident minister.
After the homecoming court docket’s halftime presentation, freshman princess Valuable Pante joined her pals in a spirited pupil part, carrying her lavender robe and tiara.
“We’ve all been by means of a tough time,” she mentioned. “I really feel like we would have liked this.”
After the sport, the varsity staff held fingers in a darkened locker room and sang the alma mater in Hawaiian. One of many verses describes Lahaina because the “main star of the Pacific,” an “ever-burning torch which can’t be extinguished by the fierce winds” the realm is thought for.
Coach Dean Rickard, a 1982 Lahainaluna graduate, noticed hope in how resilient the gamers have been.
“They signify the group nicely,” he mentioned. “The lights will return and every little thing can be a lot brighter from that time on.”
This story was reported by The Related Press. Freelance photographer Mengshin Lin contributed to this report.