LAHAINA - There is a bright, new phenomenon spreading over the West Side that's bringing a fresh and exciting energy to the entire community.
In "Luna Nation," a grassroots booster club for Lahainaluna High School sports, a positive action support group is gaining momentum and taking high flight to enrich the unique culture of Lahaina.
The effort has been spearheaded by Dan Williams, who, with the aid of Lahainaluna Athletic Director Scott Soldwisch, injected exciting new energy into the Lunas' basketball programs last season by moving their home games from the campus gym to the sparkling Lahaina Civic Center, site of the EA Sports Maui Invitational Basketball Tournament, and adding entertaining events - particularly for the children of the community - during half-time of the games.
The Lahainaluna High School Foundation (LHSF) last week named its first “Legends of Lahainaluna” — Bobby Kawaguchi, Henry “Bruno” Ariyoshi and The Westin Maui — for their support of the school and community. Pictured at the ceremony last week Thursday night at the Pioneer Inn are (from left): Rob Shelton of LHSF, Kawaguchi, West and South Maui Sen. Roz Baker, Ariyoshi and Westin Maui General Manager Gregg Lundberg.
Attendance soared, the band played on and on, and the Lady Lunas won their sixth straight Maui Interscholastic League championship.
The boys team, led by TJ Rickard and Lukas Williams (Dan's son), rocked the house to knock off MIL kingpin Baldwin to win a title of their own.
With T-shirts and spirit towels spreading the red tide of the West Side across the Civic Center floor, Luna Nation was officially born.
But Big Dan Williams is much more than a hoops dad pushing his kid to basketball stardom. Although Lukas was indeed named MIL "Co-Player of the Year" along with his running mate, TJ, and has moved on to play college basketball in Vermont, Williams sees much more to life than three-point shots and slam dunks.
A devout Christian and family man, Williams is keen on community bonding and the inherent goodness of humanity. He is a man that realizes the virtue of small town values and the importance of promoting integrity in the early stages of the lives of those who call this place their home.
He has thus devoted his time to enriching the youth sports experience here, and basketball is the name of the game.
So the Luna Nation took off last season, and the Lahainaluna teams soared to the aforementioned heights, but Williams would not rest on the laurels of the past.
Both the girls and boys teams will be contenders, favorites actually, to win their respective championships, but they are spreading their wings to fly further to embrace the warmth of the Lahaina community.
Back in September, Williams, along with King Kamehameha III Elementary School PCNC (Parent Community Networking Center facilitator) Claire Tillman, initiated a new program at the historic campus.
"The idea was to have the student-athletes come down to our school on a regular basis and help the teachers in whatever way they could," explained Tillman. "Be it helping with reading or playing with the kids at recess, it really didn't matter. Just having these big, tall, athletically built boys in their midst was a thrill for the little ones. Its been a resounding success."
Luna boys head coach John Dudley, who guided the team to the title in his first year at the helm last season, concurred.
"Big thanks to Dan for what he's done - his commitment to the program and to the community is unbelievable. He just keeps wanting to do more to help the kids, help the school and help the community. And you know what? It's not only the little kids that are benefitting from this. The players themselves are realizing that their actions on and off the court are important. They are benefitting from the honor of walking around town with Lahainaluna across their chests, as these elementary school kids literally and figuratively look up to them. This program goes miles in building the self-esteem of these teenage boys."
It was an endearing sight last week to see 6'5" Luna center Gavin Kahaialii leading a troop of keiki around the playground in his role as the Pied Piper of Lahaina.
Dudley added, "The kids look up to the players as role models - not as the 'cool guy' type, but as student athletes who are looking to build for the future with emphasis on education and character. They want to do more things for the community; they want to expand this program. Lahaina is really special in this way. Whether they play sports or not - that's not the point. We want to make things better for everybody, and this program has exceeded our expectations."
Williams commented, "I just want to emphasize to the boys the importance of the community in our lives, and the value of family and being student athletes.
"We see certain kids with a history of having a hard life, a hard time of it, and we just want to show them that getting good grades can lead to an opportunity to extend their sports careers, and also as an extension of their education. We want all the kids to know that they are loved, and that the community of Lahaina is a special place that really cares about them."
King Kamehameha III Principal Steve Franz is glad to see former students return as mentors.
"This is just an awesome effort by everyone. It is a win-win situation if I've ever seen one. My own two kids love it, the teachers love it, the families love it. It's a positive influence on everyone, including the players. Several of them went to this school and now they are heroes receiving all this adulation - it's really good for them," Franz concluded.