After a whirlwind experience that included a West Region Championship and a berth in the Little League World Series United States Championship game, six haumāna returned to school at KS Maui Middle School this week as heroes – among their peers, and within the local community – and leaders that people of all ages can look up to.
The Central East Maui Little League team included KS Maui students Nakea Kahalehau, Bransyn Hong, Duke Aloy, Kamaha‘o Akima, Kaleb “Lefty” Mathias, and Caleb Chai. The squad made it all the way to the championship game before falling to eventual Little League World Series World Champion Louisiana, 9-5, on August 24. Following a consolation game matchup with Japan the next day, the squad returned home on Monday and was greeted by a large group of ‘ohana, friends, supporters from KS Maui and across the island.
“We got a lot of support, and a lot of fans believed in us,” said Hong, who served as the team’s starting shortstop. “Even people we didn’t know supported us. After seeing the pictures and videos Kamehameha Schools sent (as part of the national television broadcast), I felt the aloha through the screen and a connection with everyone who knew we could do it, whether I actually knew them or not. It made me feel proud to represent our school and island.”
The celebration continued on Tuesday as the KS players were honored with a “Champions Parade” around campus, as well as a baseball card signing event and luncheon so that peers and kumu could show their aloha as well.
“When we returned to school, we were greeted with lei and hugs, went on a ‘victory ride’ around all three campuses, and even had a special Hawaiian plate lunch,” Hong said. “Our Kamehameha family is awesome!”
The Central East Maui squad made it to the sport’s grandest stage, and ended up as one of the top two teams in the nation out of the thousands of squads that played in their community leagues throughout the spring and summer.
“Our boys earning the right to represent Maui, Hawai‘i, and the West Region is a huge honor,” said Jon Viela, KS Maui’s director of athletics and a former University of Hawai‘i baseball player. “They displayed their true character and values of being ambassadors for our island and state. As we all witnessed, their run included aloha and ha‘aha‘a.
“They always displayed the aloha spirit in all of their actions. For example, at the start of each game, they presented makana to their opponents. When playing the game, our boys remained humble.”
KS student-athletes have become synonymous with the Little League World Series as the squad from Honolulu that won the World Championship in 2018 featured five players from KS Kapālama Middle School: Aukai Kea, Bruce Boucher, John de la Cruz, Ka‘olu Holt and Caleb Okada.
“At KSM we are fortunate to have good community sports programs,” Viela said. “KSM benefits tremendously from community programs such as these, and we’re very excited for and enthusiastic about the future of these boys and the future of all our athletic programs.”
Hong adds: “It’s always important to show respect and love to others. That’s just how we do it in Hawai‘i. I think that’s why people from all over the world really liked our team and cheered for us. We have to treat others how we want to be treated. When we show aloha and get aloha back, it makes life easier and better for everyone.”