Recently, USA Football had the opportunity to bring the fun and fitness of football to the Hawaiian island of Oahu as part of its First Down initiative. Designed with first-time football participants in mind, First Down delivers active and engaging experiences that introduce kids to the basics of football like running, jumping, passing and catching in a free and exciting way.
In five days, USA Football hosted 18 youth clinics throughout Oahu, serving more than 2,500 kids. USA Football Senior Coordinator of Football Operations Dan Doell made the 4,000-mile trek from Indianapolis to the sun and sand of Hawaii to help lead the clinics.
Here’s what he had to say about the five days of First Down:
While visiting Hawaii for the first time, I ventured into new surroundings and tried local cuisine, including poke, pineapple and shaved ice. Not only was it a trip of firsts for me, but also for kids all over Oahu who were playing football for the first time.
We started our week in the center of Oahu at Wahiawa Elementary. Wahiawa is a feeder school to Leilehua High School, home of the Mighty Mules. Leilehua head coach Mark Kurisu along with his staff and players assisted both of our sessions. “Our commitment to our community is to help mold our future. Allowing our kids to assist the elementary serves as a reminder to our kids of where they started,” he said.
Nanaikapono Elementary was next, where we met an excited group of students on the west side of the island. We were joined by the Nanakuli Golden Hawks football team. As the kids learned the ABCs of football, players quickly became role models since many of the young students has just watched them play two days prior.
Our next clinics took us to Waipahu Elementary, where we ran five sessions for the entire school (first-sixth grade). As soon as we arrived, I could feel the excitement from the students. In Hawaii, schools feel closer to campuses with classrooms spread out versus one huge building. Cheers were echoing from all of them as they entered the courtyard.
These clinics were made better having a program like Waipahu High School helping the kids. Waipahu is the reigning Division I Hawaii state champion and a program with rich tradition. Head coach Bryson Carvalho sets the bar high for his players not only in football, but also for servant leadership, which was reflected by Waipahu’s entire team coming out to five straight clinics.
Several players were Waipahu Elementary alumni and quickly connected with former teachers and administrators. A few players volunteered some of the special experiences they’ve had playing football and answered questions from the students, making sure to remind them all that they could one day wear a navy Waipahu jersey if they studied hard and listened to their teachers.
“Uncle, uncle!” the little girl from Aiea Elementary said running across the field. “No problem, we will help you find your uncle,” I said as I walked her back to her group. What I didn’t realize was that she was calling me uncle. Due to the Hawaiian culture’s strong sense of family, it’s common for children to call their elders “uncle” or “auntie” as a sign of respect.
The Aiea High School student-athletes that came out didn’t just care about giving the kids a positive experience, but also focused on coaching them so they could improve. Without knowing much about First Down or the Football Development Model (FDM) coming in, the players simply grasped it.
At Makalapa Elementary, we were greeted as if we were arriving at a family reunion. A whole crew of parking attendants, students and administrators welcomed us with kukui nut lei necklaces. Following a successful clinic and the conclusion of the school day, Principal Denise Arai invited us to meet her entire staff and enjoy fresh fruit and mochi together before a live performance of “Hawaii Aloha,” a treasured anthem of native Hawaiians.
Kahuku is a small, rural, coastal town that packs the stands of its high school’s football stadium on Friday nights. Similar to Waipahu, young students look up to the Kahuku football players donning the red and white. Head coach Sterling Carvalho helped with instruction and encouraged participants by telling them that they’d someday represent Kahuku under the Friday night lights.
Following Kahuku, we headed to Schofield Barracks Army Base, where pride for our country goes without saying. We partnered with the Los Angeles Rams to host a free clinic for all kids who call the base home, which was perhaps was one of the most rewarding clinics of the week.
The Army lined a beautiful grass field for us and put up some fencing to make sure parents and spectators stayed back, but secretly I think it helped us keep all 170 kids in.
To wrap up our week in Oahu, we held two public clinics at Aiea High School to continue our 2019 First Down Tour. Honolulu was the fourth tour stop this summer. Best of all, a large chunk of attendees had never played football before.
With the clinics falling on Statehood Day, the holiday commemorating Hawaii becoming part of the United States, there was a large turnout of passionate Aiea High School players and coaches. I loved seeing the players and coaches challenging kids to focus on small details regarding fundamentals. Many of the participants enjoyed the clinic so much that they stuck around for the second one. One dad even told me he and his son flew from a neighboring island to partake in the First Down fun.
When you think of football states, Hawaii is probably not the first state you think of. In fact, if you weren’t reading this, it might be one of the last. However, if my trip taught me one thing, it’s that Hawaii loves football.
Thank you, or should I say mahalo, to all the schools, kids, players, parents and coaches for everything you did for USA Football and making this week one I’ll never forget.
First Down events will run through the end of the year. To find one in your area, visit usafootball.com/firstdown.
You can also still host your own First Down Program this fall. To host a First Down Program today, complete this questionnaire for USA Football.