By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Parker not only made school history at the Big Island Interscholastic Federation canoe paddling championships, but also batted 3 for 3, advancing all three crews to states.
On an overcast Wednesday at Hilo Bay that featured calm water and a gentle wind, six Bulls (stroker Aidan Wharton, Emily Whitfield, Charlie Charbonneau, Cody Brown, Mariko Langevin and steersman Sarah Willey) took care of unfinished business.
Parker’s mixed crew captured the half-mile race in 3 minutes and 58.45 seconds, taking home the school’s first BIIF title in any sport.
It’s also the first time the Waimea private school has qualified all three crews to the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state championship, which will be held Friday, Feb. 1 at Keehi Lagoon on Oahu.
Keaau took second, Honokaa third and Pahoa fourth. The Daggers, who have two girls out with injuries, declined their mixed state spot. Konawaena, which was fifth, will head to states.
On a windy Saturday, boys crews Keaau, Kona, Honokaa and Parker qualified for states while Pahoa, Parker, Kona and Kealakehe did so for the girls.
The mixed race was close for the most part. The eight canoes reached the turn at roughly the same time. Then about 100 yards away, the length of a football field, the Bulls made their move, jumping ahead of Keaau and blitzing to history.
“It was incredible. We were second all year. I’m not sure how we would do,” Wharton said. “That last push, we were up there with Keaau. But we could taste the BIIF championship. We wanted it and we went for it.
“I’ve paddled all four years. The first two years we didn’t do so good. Last year, our best crew was the mixed. But this year, we made states with all three crews. That’s incredible.”
Parker also won twice on the day, taking first in its heat. After the second heat, there was a 15-minute break. Then it was back to work.
“The first heat our blend was so smooth, our timing was on it, and I knew it could be our day,” said Willey, one of five seniors; Whitfield is a junior. “We all had the right mindset. After that heat, I knew we had a a chance.
“We call Cody Brown, in seat 4, our ‘Little Energy Shot’ because when we feel the hull goes down he hits it and pounds. We were neck and neck with Keaau, but at that moment we were all on the same page. That’s something we struggled with in the past. But we got in sync and the water felt great.”
The Bulls still paddle with the memory of Harrison “Beanie” Lono Heen, the former coach who died last year on Nov. 4, the first day of practice due to an aneurysm. He was 60.
“We’ve got a big coaching staff, from the Surf Park (a Kawaihae paddling club founded by Heen) and we all promised Beanie that we would help coach,” Parker coach Mike Nearman said. “The coaches would paddle with the kids and push them. The coaches would work with them, and that’s what really brought the team together. The kids made it happen for us.
“The kids did an awesome job. I liked their spirit and heart, the whole combination of coming together. It was a perfect day, compared to Saturday.”
One of Heen’s great paddling accomplishments was completing 45 consecutive Molokai Hoe races, a 38-miler and the largest long-distance outrigger canoe competition in the world.
That spirit passed down to Willey, who steered a Southern California mixed team to first place in the Queen Liliuokalani race in August. It’s the tune-up for the Molokai Hoe and the Na Wahine O Ke Kai for the women.
Willey practiced just once with the Southern California crew. They still took first, so they did something right. The Parker senior pointed out that hard work always helps.
“We’ve got eight coaches from the Surf Park and they all came back this year,” Willey said. “We learned about mental strength from them and it helped. It’s amazing that it’s our first BIIF championship in anything, especially taking all three crews to states.
“I knew we could do it this year if we worked hard. Our coaches pushed us and we pushed back and worked hard.”
1. Parker (Aidan Wharton, Emily Whitfield, Charlie Charbonneau, Cody Brown, Mariko Langevin, Sarah Willey), 3:58.45; 2. Keaau, 4:02.85; 3. Honokaa, 4:05.52; 4. Pahoa, 4:08.65; 5. Konawaena, 4:09.43; 6. Kealakehe, 4:10.22; 7. Waiakea, 4:20.00; 8. Hilo, 4:23.31.
1. Parker, 3:58.90; 2. Pahoa, 4:08.55; 3. Kealakehe, 4:08.82; 4. Hilo, 4:14.14; 5. Hawaii Prep, 4:23.66.
1. Honokaa, 4:01.94; 2. Keaau, 4:02.18; 3. Kona, 4:14.05; 4. Waiakea, 4:15.55; 5. Kamehameha, 4:41.38.