The Wingspan

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The Wingspan

The Wingspan

Lahainaluna High School football team honored at Super Bowl 58 coin toss

[, Michael Reaves] [Former Luna football Coach Bobby Watson assists with coin toss]
[, Michael Reaves] [Former Luna football Coach Bobby Watson assists with coin toss]

The tension was palpable the night of Sunday, Feb. 11 as the captains of the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers faced off for the coin toss. Americans across the country had placed their bets, said their prayers and hunkered down amongst family and friends to watch one of the most highly anticipated and highest-viewed Super Bowls in National Football League (NFL) history, but for the residents of the town of Lahaina on the Hawaiian island of Maui, the coin toss of the 58th super bowl meant something entirely different. 

Lahainaluna High School is one of the oldest high schools west of the Rockies, founded in 1831. “Lahaina -luna ” meaning “above Lahaina,” is descriptive of the school’s location, overlooking the town of Lahaina, as well as the importance of the school to the community, of which the varsity football team is central. “The school has always served as that beacon because that’s what Lahainaluna means,” Head Coach Dean Rickard said.  “… and the football team is kind of special to the town.”

On Aug. 8 of 2023, Lahaina was the center of the largest natural disaster in Hawaii state history, CNN reported. Over 2,200 buildings were burnt and over 100 people died in the tragic wildfires, with Lahainaluna High School being one of the few buildings spared from the devastation. 

“I just grabbed my backpack and like one pair of clothes and just ran out, drove off, I didn’t have anything after that,” Lahainaluna student and Luna’s linebacker Kahi Mango said in an interview with the NFL. 

The winds from Hurricane Dora carried embers from the fire, creating a deadly mist of orange amongst the Pacific Ocean. Many of the bodies that were found were unidentifiable due to the power and cell outages, leaving families on the mainland unaware if their loved ones were safe. Not only was mainland-to-Hawaii communication not functioning, but residents within Maui were having trouble getting in contact with one another, causing more chaos and confusion. Even when notified of a death, many of the bodies were so mangled that it was difficult for families to identify their loved ones. 

A major concern immediately after the fires was the availability of housing, considering that most of West Maui had been burned to the ground. Combined with the slow removal of toxic debris and rising housing costs, many Lahaina residents were at a loss of where to go. “We don’t really have any answers for like long-term housing,” Lahainaluna student and offensive lineman Morgan “Bula” Montgomery stated in an interview with NFL earlier this month. 

[USA Today, Cody Godwin] [Lahaina wildfires]
Both the land and spirit of Lahaina were broken following the wildfires, and with nowhere to turn, the residents of Lahaina looked to the football team of Lahainaluna High School to bring joy back to their home. 

Two months after the fires, Lahainaluna students were transferred to another school as their campus was repaired. While all school sports halted immediately after the fires, the community of Lahaina longed for their football team to provide some sort of reprieve from the loss and sadness of the last months. However, Jonathan Conrad, athletic director of Lahainaluna High School, expressed to the NFL that reorganizing sports was harder than he expected. “The hardest thing to get football going was finding out where people were, there was no way to communicate … so I didn’t know if people were still alive,” he states. Principal of Lahainaluna High School Richard Carosso told the NFL that close to 50% of the students at the school live in the impacted area.

[Associated Press, Mengshin Lin] [Lunas football team]
Nevertheless, Conrad and his colleagues persisted and managed to get the Lunas to play a shortened season. All eyes were on the young athletes as they resumed practice in the stifling Hawaiian heat, determined to bring joy and pride back to their community. Maui News reports that tickets to the homecoming game sold out “in minutes”’ as a result of the community’s anticipation to see the Lunas back on the field. “I mean we were always close, but you can see … it’s even closer now … more tight-knit than ever, ” Rickard said when discussing the initial reunion of the Lunas. “[playing is] good for the healing process.” 

The NFL, recognizing the inspiring stories of the Hawaiian football team, invited a few Lunas and their coaches to assist at the coin toss before the Superbowl game commenced. Players Teva Loft, Morgan Montgomery, Kaulana Tihada andKoala Watson along with coaches Dean Rickard, Garret Tihada and former coach Bobby Watson were invited on the field, proudly representing Lahaina with their red and black jersey and leis. 

Watson shook hands with both the Kansas City and San Francisco captains before being handed the coin; he flipped it to heads, signaling a decisive start to the highly-anticipated game. However, these celebrations did not come without recognition of the lives lost in the community of Lahaina and the courage of a football team that brought life back. 

Lahainaluna alumni Lori Gomez Karinen states “We’re all grieving in our own way…but we’re all together, we’re all Lahaina-strong. Luna-strong.”


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About the Contributor
Tavroop Kaur, Managing Editor