Couple working to get West Maui Little League back on its feet
LAHAINA – In the rich, cultural history of the Lahaina community, the diamond games – baseball and softball – stood tall as pillars of the camaraderie and strength of the family unit here on the West Side.
From Little League to Lahainaluna High School, the allure of our national pastime held a high place in the lives of the rural population.
From the 1930s to the turn of the century, names like Yonamine, Kawaguchi, Sodetani, Agawa, Freeland, Kukahiko, Eldredge and more led the charge around the base paths at Malu-ulu-o-lele Park and makeshift ballfields in the plantation camps to take these diamond games to the forefront of the collective personality of the people.
Throughout the state, across the country and around the world to faraway places like Japan and Hong Kong, Lahaina baseball carved an unmistakable mark in the history of the West Side – the game became a way of life.
Then, coincidental with the turn of the century, baseball in Lahaina began to slide.
Youth basketball took hold, club wrestling pinned more of the kids, and the popularity of gloves, bats and balls slid further and further down the list of family Christmas gifts.
The turnout for West Maui Little League fell continuously in the new millennium, hitting a low point of 220 registered kids this past spring, as opposed to upwards of 500 registered children in the heyday of the 1990s.
Moreover, cherished community traditions like the Lahaina Red Sox/Waiakea Uka Tigers Home and Home Series passed away.
For 53 years, beginning in 1956, the WMLL Red Sox continued a fun-filled relationship with the Tigers of Waiakea Uka Little League in Hilo.
Each summer, the two teams would trade off travelling to the other’s home gym and park for two or three days of fun at the beach, the park, the bowling alley, and in the respective gyms, with a spirited baseball game in the middle of it all.
It was island-style, down home camaraderie, spiced up with the best potluck spreads you’ve ever seen.
Jason and Annamarie Kanaha are parents that aim to get West Maui Little League back up on its feet and running the base paths like in the golden eras of the past.
“Basically, we just want to organize the league and get back to teaching the kids sound fundamentals at an early age,” said Jason, who grew up in the Central Maui Little League – where current Major Leaguers Shane Victorino and Kurt Suzuki first learned to play the game – and played high school ball at Baldwin.
“We also want to establish continuity throughout the year for the kids, so that they get more game experience going up to high school.”
Kanaha explained that he hopes to move the Little League Majors Division season from spring to winter, and then move right into “Horse League” – Bronco, Pony and Colt – seasons in the spring.
“Hopefully, this will fill the gaps that the kids have now and give them more experience for high school,” he said.
The Kanahas will head up the new West Maui Little League board of directors, with Annamarie as president and Jason as vice president.
They are joined by a veteran, experienced group that includes Treasurer Matt Polk, Secretary Kim Ziegler, Player Agent Don “Show Me The Money” Rosenthal, Umpire Chief Brian “Specs” Arakawa and Board Members Lani Chadli, Freddie Hampe, Chris Salem and Vernon Kanaha.
“We’re a new board of directors, but I hope we can get more kids out,” said Jason.
“It will be a battle with basketball and wrestling, but I hope we can pull it off. It’s important that all the parents realize that it’s all for the kids – not for anything else but to teach the kids life skills for the future.”
Registration will be held on consecutive Saturdays, Dec. 7 and 14, at Napili Park. For more information on West Maui Little League, call 269-7141.