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Due to incredible support by Cooley, Lahainaluna stadium nearing completion

By Staff | Dec 4, 2014

Students show their appreciation for Sue Cooley at the entrance to the stadium on campus.

LAHAINA – About 20 years ago, Lahaina residents Roy and Betty Sakamoto became acquainted with a woman from the Mainland named Sue Cooley. The relationship grew and blossomed over the years, and Cooley became enamored with the culture of the islands – particularly the unique traditions of the West Side of Maui.

As the Sakamotos have deep roots in Lahainaluna High School – Roy attended the school, and Betty’s daughter also graduated from the historic campus – Cooley was impressed with the depth of the spirit exhibited at functions she attended, particularly the football games.

The discipline and passion manifested by not only the players but by the entire student body as well struck a chord with her. She was particularly affected one night as she walked by the Lunas’ locker room at War Memorial Stadium after a devastating loss to rival Baldwin, and she heard the players singing the Lahainaluna alma mater.

As has happened to so, so many, the sincerity of expression of the school song touched this kindly woman. Nobody realized it at the time, but the school would soon be touched by an angel by the name of Sue D Cooley.

During those years, the Lahainaluna High School Foundation had begun research to improve the athletic facilities at the oldest public high school west of the Rockies. At the top of the list was a project entitled “Re-Do The Imu” in reference to the Hawaiian-style Dutch oven level heat at the Luna field at the foothills of the West Maui Mountains – and the treatment opponents would receive from Lahainaluna teams.

Sue D Cooley tours the new stadium with Lahainaluna High School Foundation Board Member Lanny Tihada.

Phase I of the project would be to have the field, then made up of dirt, rocks, weeds and some grass, replaced with artificial turf, and for the track – then in similar sad, unsafe shape – replaced by a rubberized track.

This first phase of the project was budgeted at $1.5 million by the state. With the Sakamotos acting as liaisons to the LHSF, the angel spread her wings and gifted matching funds to start the project.

Hellas Construction and Hawaiian Dredging began the work and completed Phase I in the summer of 2010. A preseason game and three Maui Interscholastic League games were played on campus for the first time in 60 years, but soon the Department of Education deemed it an unfair advantage for Lahainaluna due to the limited seating and the daytime heat at the Imu.

There would thus be no games scheduled at the campus stadium until seating of 3,000 was available and lighting installed for night games.

When word of these conditions got out, Cooley offered to finance a project to create a stadium with lighting so that home games could be held on campus. Her offer would initially be $5,000,000 in additional funds, and she fulfilled it. That sum was intended to be sufficient to complete the project, but due to changes in building codes, ADA requirements, unforeseen changes and additions, the project was in danger of being put on hold.

During a visit this past spring, Cooley came to the project site and was impressed with the progress that had been made. She was informed by LHSF officials that the stadium could not be completed due to a shortfall in funds.

Her reply was, “Don’t let that stop this project!” Another $1,000,000 was gifted to cover the shortfall and as a contingency fund, bringing the amount she has contributed to $7.5 million.

Today, with the blessing of Cooley’s generosity, the thoughtfulness of Roy and Betty Sakamoto, the tireless dedication of LHSF Board Members Jeff Rogers, Mark Tillman, Rob Shelton, Louisa Shelton, Lanny Tihada and Kathleen Gimbalvo, and countless volunteers, the project is nearing completion.

There is an impressive entrance structure with Sue D Cooley Stadium in bold letters across the front, dedicated walk of fame, the state-of-the-art Matrix turf, track, MUSCO lighting, scoreboard, bleachers, press box and sound system.

The field of dreams has come true.

“We thank the Lord for sending Sue D Cooley to us and allowing us to share with her the students and the community. We totally believe this is a school that carries the pride and spirit of the entire community,” the Lahainaluna High School Foundation concluded.