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Vulcan Challenge raises more than $160,000 for UH-Hilo athletics programs

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Courtesy of the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo.

The University of Hawai‘i at Hilo is 2-0 when it comes to meeting its fundraising goals in the Vulcan Challenge.

This year, the fundraising campaign for the UH-Hilo athletics department and its programs collected more than $160,000 from Aug. 22 to Sept. 19. That’s more than double the $75,000 the department had hoped to raise.

During the inaugural challenge in 2021, UH-Hilo raised $223,500 in 90 days, easily surpassing its goal of $200,000.

UH-Hilo Athletics Director Patrick Guillen

So despite the COVID-19 pandemic, higher gas and grocery prices and other increased expenses taking money out of people’s pockets, the community has donated nearly $400,000 to Vulcan athletics in two years.

“That tells you how much this community appreciates and loves Vulcan athletics,” UH-Hilo Athletics Director Patrick Guillen told Big Island Now.


Tim Dolan, UH vice president of advancement and University of Hawai‘i Foundation CEO, said the foundation was excited to see the community support for student-athletes and Vulcan programs again this year. The foundation partners with the UH-Hilo athletics department on the campaign.

“We are grateful to everyone who participated in the challenge, especially during this time when people are experiencing stresses on their personal budgets,” Dolan told Big Island Now via email. “Their generosity is making a difference and helping our team be the best.”

More than 650 donors contributed to the campaign this year, including a $25,000 matching gift from KTA Super Stores in memory of founders Koichi and Taniyo Taniguchi, with each sports program receiving matching funds of up to $1,000.

“The community just came out and really supported all of our programs,” Guillen said.

Dolan added that those who donated this year sent a powerful message of encouragement to UH-Hilo teams. He thanked the community for its generosity and support.


“Thank you for being such strong supporters of our outstanding Vulcan student-athletes,” Dolan said.

The Vulcan Challenge began out of necessity when the pandemic raged and budgets throughout the state were slashed.

“If we were going to come out of the pandemic and be able to do some of the things we normally do, even the minimum, which is traveling to O‘ahu to play Hawai‘i Pacific University or Chaminade or Mānoa, we needed to raise money for travel,” Guillen said. “We needed to raise funds for equipment, uniforms.”

The challenge now is the athletics department’s annual fundraising campaign, similar to those of others throughout the nation. While the urgency of raising funds to get through a pandemic has subsided, Guillen said fundraising remains necessary, just for different reasons.

Each of the 12 Vulcan sports programs raises funds as part of the challenge, starting this year with a minimum goal of $5,000 each. The money raised through the challenge is above and beyond each program’s annual budget from the athletics department.


Money raised is used for various reasons. It could help the baseball team purchase a new pitching machine. Another team might need funds for post- or pre-game meals when they are on the road. As COVID-19 lingers, funds could also be used in case a student-athlete becomes ill and needs to isolate.

The funds are used for top priorities not already accounted for in each team’s budget and extra costs that could pop up throughout a team’s season. Any additional money raised through the challenge outside the individual team goals goes into a general fund that the athletics department uses to fill in the gaps when necessary.

“These campaigns give our neighbors and friends a meaningful opportunity to get involved and directly help our student-athletes,” Dolan said. “They build community and strengthen the collective joy experienced when we come together to support programs and students we care deeply about.”

Vulcan athletics was born from the Big Island community.

“It was really the community that brought up this program and supported this program, and it continues to this very day,” Guillen said.

The UH-Hilo athletics department and its student-athletes are also members of the community squad. Guillen said when there’s a need, whether it’s The Food Basket, Hawai’i Island’s food bank, Special Olympics or any other community organization, the Vulcans step up.

“We’re very involved in the community as much as we possibly can be,” Guillen said. “I think because of that, people see that, they know that and they want to help our program. I think our priorities are in the right order.”

The Vulcan Challenge is one more way student-athletes learn teamwork — and that “it’s not about me. It’s about we.” They get to see, visually, the progress and improvements being made through partnerships and opportunities created by being members the community, right down to the new banners on light poles in the UH-Hilo parking lot, new equipment and more.

The student-athletes also watch as the island’s business community, the university’s senior administration, the UH-Hilo campus community, UH-Hilo alumni and others come together to show their support.

“It’s a really beautiful thing when it all comes together and everybody’s focused on one goal,” Guillen said.

He said it’s incredibly humbling to receive as much support from the community as the athletics department gets, not just through the Vulcan Challenge but on a regular basis.

Oftentimes, at larger universities, athletics can be all about winning. Guillen said he’s just as competitive as anyone and spits nails when the Vulcans lose, but there’s more important lessons for student-athletes to learn than simply being on top of the team rankings.

“They are students first before they’re athletes,” he said. “They’re here to get an education. When I talk about giving back to the community, we have a very robust community service, civic engagement program here becaue I believe that’s part of the human development process, the student development process. Service learning; giving back to the community.”

While the Vulcan Challenge has been a huge success and he’s grateful to the coaches, student-athletes and the community for being so involved in that success, what Guillen is most proud of is the civic and academic progress the students make.

The proof is in the GPA.

A record 74 Vulcan student-athletes received the Division 2 Athletics Directors Association Academic Achievement Award for the 2021-22 academic year. The award honors student-athletes who achieved a cumulative grade-point average of 3.5 or higher on a 4.0 scale, completed at least two years of college-level course work and have been an active member of an intercollegiate team during the last academic year.

This year’s number of Vulcan recipients surpassed last year’s then-record-setting number of 62.

“Our student-athletes here spend more time in a plane than on a bus or in a van more than anybody in the country, and for them to do what they’re doing in the classroom is nothing short of amazing in my opinion,” Guillen said. “I’m incredibly, incredibly proud of our students for that. That’s what it’s all about.”

So, yes, fundraising is obviously important and winning is fun, but neither are necessary.

“What’s necessary is that our student-athletes excel in the classroom so they can graduate and move on in life,” Guillen said.

Nathan Christophel
Nathan Christophel is a full-time reporter with Pacific Media Group. He has more than 25 years of experience in journalism as a reporter, copy editor and page designer. He previously worked at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald in Hilo. Nathan can be reached at [email protected]
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