By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
When the Seasiders practice or play a game at their school gym, they only need to take a look at the wall to absorb the significance of Laupahoahoe boys basketball.
Sitting high for all to see, Big Island Interscholastic Federation championship banners greet those who enter the yellow-painted gym. There are a bunch of tennis banners, and four for basketball: BIIF championships in 1966 and 1970 and Division A state titles both years.
It’s a reminder that basketball was big back in the day, and a proud legacy to wear the royal blue and gold uniforms that pass in spirit from one generation to the next.
Simply put, it’s a family thing at Laupahoehoe — where grandpas, uncles, fathers and sons swap old tales at get-togethers. The Seasiders understand it because most on the roster of seven deep have grandpas or uncles or fathers who played at the school.
But it looks like a swan song for Seasider boys basketball, at least for the foreseeable future. Since the transition to Laupahoehoe Community Public Charter School, enrollment has dropped. There were 62 high school students last school year and just 40 this school year.
“For sure, it’s the last year for Laupahoehoe basketball,” said Keanu Domingo, one of four seniors. “There are not too much kids around. I’d say I know about 10 plus kids who went to Hilo or Honokaa because they didn’t like being a charter school.”
The Seasiders were scheduled to play in the Konawaena preseason tournament, with some parents looking to turn the trip into a mini-vacation, but the team pulled out.
A teacher was required to be there, according to team members. There is also a school policy that requires hats be removed when students are indoors, including any part of the facility, such as walkways and areas in front of the classrooms, band room and gym.
The belief that basketball will discontinue extends beyond the team.
“It’s sad. My whole family is sad to see it die. That’s pretty much what everybody thinks,” said senior Justin Jose, a returning starter, along with Domingo, senior Jordan Salboro and junior Collin Lodivero. “I had a lot of family play for the school. My dad, Leroy, played basketball and five uncles played basketball. We don’t have a lot of younger people who like the sport.”
First-year coach Chad Pajimola hoisted a hopeful 3-point shot from halfcourt, attempting to bring good cheer to Laupahoehoe’s situation.
“We played in the Honokaa tourney and lost to Honokaa, Waiakea and Pahoa, and we got smashed,” he said. “But I played everybody. Our roster was bigger, like 12 guys. But I knew we were going to lose some guys to academics or if they wanted to go in a different direction.
“We’re not the biggest or tallest team, but it’s not how big you are, but how big you play.”
Added Jose: “It’s all about the heart.”
Salboro has three younger siblings who transferred to public schools. He grew up with most of his teammates, especially the seniors, and wanted to play at Laupahoehoe in his last season.
“It’s my last year and I wanted to play with my team,” he said.
Nobriga shared the same sentiment.
“It’s my last year and all the guys are one big family,” he said. “It’s the last time we get to play with each other. We came back to play basketball. We all grew up together, playing in P&R. It’s good to play with these guys. It’s like family.”
Actually, it is family.
Keanu Domingo and Ronnie Domingo, a junior guard, are cousins. Jose and Lodivero, a guard/forward, are also cousins. Kysen Datuin is the only freshman.
It was growing late on a scorching Thursday, but the Seasiders were in a good mood, despite the disclosure that the long run of tradition-rich Laupahoehoe basketball likely is coming to a close. The school was founded in 1883 and merged with the Hawaii High School Athletic Association in 1956.
“After practice, there’s more to this,” Pajimola said. “They’ll go fishing, hunting or the beach together. This is country. It’s bigger than basketball.
“What I’m trying to teach them is about life on and off the court. Basketball brings everybody together. If you can work together on the court, you can work with anybody off the court. As Fred said, we’re one big family.”