Hawai'i State News

Football champs Konawaena Wildcats honored by Hawaiʻi County Council

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A Big Island gridiron gang hit pay dirt again Wednesday, this time off the field, winning accolades from the Hawai‘i County Council.

Konawaena players flashed “fives” with their hands while posing for a photo after winning the Division I state football championship game Nov. 26, 2022, on O‘ahu. The act was in support of the late Maui Ellis-Noa, a Konawaena graduate and former football player who died just weeks before the game and for whom the team dedicated its season. Photo from the Hawai‘i High School Athletic Association via Twitter.

Council chambers at the West Hawai‘i Civic Center were packed — just like the bleachers at John Kauinana Stadium in Mililani, O‘ahu, on Nov. 26, 2022 — as the County’s legislative arm celebrated the Konawaena High School Wildcats.

The Wildcats had roared their way to an emotional 38-28 victory against Waipahu during the First Hawaiian Bank/Hawai‘i High School Athletic Association Division I state high school football championship game.

Not only was it the school’s first state football title in its 101-year history, but the Wildcats claimed the crown just weeks after the October 2022 death of Konawaena grad and former football player Maui Ellis-Noa, for whom the team dedicated its season.

Head coach Brad Uemoto told Spectrum News after the late November state championship bout: “You could just feel him here tonight, man. He was watching over us.”

Konawaena Wildcats head coach Brad Uemoto speaks during Wednesday’s Hawai‘i County Council meeting at the West Hawai‘i Civic Center in Kailua-Kona. Screenshot from video.

Each of the team’s players and coaches received certificates from the Council in honor of the championship. Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas, a 1991 Konawaena graduate, presented Uemoto with a framed certificate Wednesday with the team and others in attendance. The Council also took a photo with the team during a brief recess following remarks from members and Uemoto.


“This victory was not only for Konawaena but the entire Big Island,” Uemoto said.

He said the Wildcats play in a league, the Big Island Interscholastic Federation, that is often overlooked at the state level, so they are proud of where they come from and what they represent. He constantly reminds his players they play for more than just themselves. They suit up for Konawaena alumni, former Wildcats and their community.

“I think what makes us special is just the history and tradition we have built over the years,” Uemoto said. “We are very proud and we’ve definitely really embraced this championship. … From the time we landed all the way till now and until the ceremony when we get our state championship rings, we just continue to celebrate and [are] just happy that we made this community very proud.”

Councilwoman Michelle Galimba, who represents District 6, in which Konawaena High is located, said their championship shows they can do anything.

“Thanks for doing that for our district and for our island,” Galimba said.


Several other Council members offered their congratulations, including Vice Chairman Holeka Inaba. The first high school football game he ever attended while growing up in Kona was a bout against Waipahu, which was visiting the Big Island at the time.

“When you achieve great things with the support and leadership of coaches, of teachers, of ‘ohana, kuleana comes with that to continue to do good things,” Inaba said. “So we’re happy to have you folks here with us today. Coach Brad, congratulations. We hope to see you folks on that state field again to bring us home another victory to Kona.”

Talk about it taking a team and everybody collaborating and supporting each other on and off the field, Villegas said before reading the certificate honoring the Wildcats: “You play an integral role in the success in the game and just in the game of life,” she said.

The certificate says the team’s love, respect and desire for excellence in the game of football, guided by the priceless values of hard work, self-discipline and commitment to team work clearly manifested into the driving force behind the unprecedented and hard-fought Wildcats victory.

“You are all exceptional members of our community and an incredible example to everyone around you,” Villegas read. “It is an honor to recognize your outstanding performance and accomplishments.”


The last line of the certificate: “Hail Konawaena, pride of Hawai‘i.”

“We made history for our school and it just feels good to bring this back to our community supporting us throughout the season,” sophomore kicker Nakoa Ige told Spectrum News after the championship game. Ige kicked a 36-yard field goal to put the Wildcats ahead by two scores in the final minutes of the matchup. “I think we showed that we’re meant to be here. We can play with these [O‘ahu Interscholastic Association] teams, not just our own island.”

Even Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire and volcanoes, agreed, celebrating the victory by setting off her own fireworks a little more than a day after the championship game. Mauna Loa, the planet’s largest active volcano that makes up about 51% of the Big Island, erupted for the first time in 38 years.

Among other business Wednesday, the Council also:

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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