By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Officials, coaches and parents of Big Island Pop Warner football and the Panaewa Alii team are in what one parent called “crazy fundraising mode” to try to get their midget team to the Pop Warner Super Bowl — the league’s national championship — in the wake of disclosure of embezzlement of $100,000 or more in league travel funds.
William “Bo” Waite, Big Island Pop Warner president, said Wednesday the team has to pay approximately $37,000 today for the airfare for the players, ages 12-15, coaches and chaperons to make the trip to Kissimmee, Fla., a suburb of Orlando, for the Dec. 7 date with destiny.
“Right now, we’re kind of in a bind because the airfare has to be paid by (today),” Waite said. “That’s where we’re at right now. The rooms, we can probably work that out.” Officials estimated the overall cost of the trip would be about $120,000.
Waite said that two accounts have been set up for tax-deductible donations from the public: one at HFS Federal Credit Union under “Panaewa Regional Travel” and another at Bank of Hawaii under “Friends of Panaewa Alii.”
Donations can be made at any Big Island branch of both financial institutions.
Nani Miyashiro, Alii “team mom” and mother of player Cody Alvaro-Thomas, said that an all-day concert fundraiser is in the works for Saturday, Nov. 30, at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium.
“We do have the Civic, that’s a done deal,” she said. “I do know that we have a lot of performers who are willing to kokua their time. The pricing, tickets and other details, we’re working that out.”
Sergio Mamone, Panaewa Alii midget coach, said that Atlas Recycling has also stepped up to the plate so people can donate their recyclables to the cause.
“You don’t have to donate your whole bag of cans, but you can and that would be great,” he said. “I know a lot of senior citizens who recycle and need the money. You can bring your bags in and tell them to just donate $5 or whatever you can afford out of what you recycle.”
Mamone, who is also a boxer and mixed martial artist, said that fellow fighter Chad Thomas and Just Scrap promoter Jaydee Penn are also looking to kokua the youth football team by allowing the Alii a booth at Friday night’s Just Scrap event at the county’s Kekuaokalani Gym in Kailua-Kona.
“Chad’s daughter has been rooting for us, so he wanted to help,” Mamone said. “We’re setting up a little concession there. Chad told me, we’re doing this for the kids, so I don’t want to lose. People can just come up and donate something.”
The league alleged on Tuesday that the funds had been embezzled by the former league treasurer, who has been identified as Greta “Pua” Correa. Correa is alleged to have forged the signature of the former league president, Charles Nahale, on league travel fund checks, along with her own signature. Police started investigating the case last year and turned the investigation over to prosecutors last month. No arrests have been made nor charges filed. A voice mail message left for Correa on Wednesday was not returned.
“This puts a cloud over everything,” Nahale said. “My stomach is in a knot every time I talk about it and it just sickens me because I’ve worked over 30 years to build this program and to see it crumble in just a year — especially the year where we have our first chance at a national championship — it hurt like hell.
“We worked 30 years to put this together, every (team) association, team members, and at a time when the economy was bad, they all donated to this travel fund. It was a lot of hard work. Everybody worked so hard to put it together and when we need it the most, it was not there. That’s what hurts the most.”
Nahale said “a check-and-balance” system has since been implemented to ensure a similar occurrence doesn’t happen in the future.
“Bank statements are submitted monthly at (board) meetings, so it’s documented,” he said. “And everything that goes out has to have the president’s approval before the treasurer can (spend funds).”
Hau‘oli Knowlton, mother of Alii player Kam-Yuen Yurong-Rodrigues, said she’s “kind of upset.”
“The money that was stolen, that was for the kids, and nothing was done to the party who has taken that money yet,” she said. “But now it’s harder on us, the parents, especially the single parents. Because I’m a single parent. It’s harder on me, because I have to work harder for my son to get to Florida.”
Miyashiro said that fundraising is “going slowly” but hopes that will change now that there are accounts in place for donations and other efforts coming together in the community to raise money.
“It’s a scramble right now, because on top of what I’m doing, which is the logistical things of getting the boys up to Florida, making sure all the arrangements are being done, all the airfares are being done and being done up to the standards of Pop Warner,” she said. “The coaches are out there talking to the different sponsors. And then we have somebody else working on a grant through Pop Warner for rooming. And then we have the other board members from the association working on continuing to do some kind of fundraising.”
Another Big Island team, the Leeward Steelers mighty mites (ages 7-9) team from Kona, will make the Florida trip as well, but will play in an exhibition game that they’ve known about since before the season started and that they’ve raised funds for. League officials say the travel funds are for regional champions and that the Kona team is not affected by the alleged theft.
Miyashiro said that she and others are “feeling overwhelmed.”
“You’re dealing with your emotions that the children won,” she said. “And then you’ve got slapped on top of that, OK, they won, but we need to push that aside and get what we need to get done now. Everybody has jobs and you’ve gotta take care of your family. But on top of that, you’re doing something that’s really tedious. Overall, it’s stressful but exciting.”
For more information, call Waite at 960-9118 or Brenda Kuamoo, the Big Island Pop Warner Football Conference secretary, at 961-5277.
Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune- herald.com.
HOW TO HELP
To make a tax-deductible contribution for Panaewa Alii for Pop Warner Super Bowl trip:
Big Island HFS Federal Credit Union branches under “Panaewa Regional Travel.”
Big Island Bank of Hawaii branches under “Friends of Panaewa Alii.”