Wright On: Four seniors who make us proud

  • RICK WINTERS/West Hawaii Today
    Hawaii Prep's Ilan Naibryf.

There once was a time when people were known to say the sports pages in newspapers gave them a relief from all the bad news in the world.

Today, we’re going back to those times, if only for a brief interlude to consider academically minded athletes and the communities that support them.


Communities mean all of us, so we have a claim in recognizing how we value that intersection where learning meets doing. More than most places you can name, those two concepts are bound together here where we live in the middle of an ocean we seek to better understand on an island that coaxes us to walk, run and explore.

Today, it’s all good news here, all concerned with Big Island athletes who recently won $1,500 in the Wayne “Big Dog” Joseph Scholarship fund that rewards graduating senior athletes who exhibit excellence in “… running, academics, volunteerism and overall citizenship.”

We hear about these announcements on an annual basis. It’s always nice to read about, but you wonder sometimes what happens after the winners are selected and the scholarships money is awarded. Was it helpful? Did it help put a fine focus on college plans? What does exercise have to do with any of this?

The stories make you feel good inside.

Consider the remarkable path of Ilan Naibryf, who runs cross-country and track and plays center midfield for the Hawaii Preparatory Academy soccer team in Waimea. His family immigrated to Miami from Argentina when Ilya was two years of age, after his father, an academic, had worked for the World Health Organization. His father’s travel was unending in that job and a determination had been made earlier by Ilya’s mother to board at HPA, long before they had a family and moved to Florida.

“I trust my parents, I know they want the best for me, so I took a leap of faith when my mom told me about HPA,” Naibryf said. “It was a six hour flight to Los Angeles and another six hours to Hawaii, but it was so worth it.

“This has been a great experience for me,” he said, “HPA has an amazing STEM program; I’ve been working on a bionic hand project for the last two years that I might not have been able to do anywhere else.”

It’s an important learning tool, this STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) system of education that typically attacks real world problems by using the four basics in STEM, playing on the idea that they tend to have their unique tools that helps the different disciplines all work together in the real world.

These young people should make us all proud because they find our island a perfect place to feed their brains and their brawn. In Naibryf’s case, he will enroll at the University of Chicago this fall, taking a double major in computer science and premed. In his off time at the school that charges $75,000 a year for tuition, he will run. It will likely be a long run.

“The academics and the athletics balance each other,” he said. “The academic part can get pretty intense and detailed, but then when I go for a run, it gives me a great mental release, the stress and strain just melts away and I feel refreshed again.”

He plans to run track and cross-country at Chicago and he may try out for the soccer team.

“My advice to people is that all of this — the academics and athletics — it’s all more mental than physical,” he said. “I follow what my dad told me when I started running, ‘If you start the race, finish the race.’ He would say, ‘whatever it is, finish what you start, big or small.’”

Mykelah Ojano-Daly, a soon-to-be Waiakea grad, likes words and what they do when combined with other words. She wants to perhaps be a journalist, starting with a writing program that has her interest at the University of Hawaii-Hilo, then she anticipates transferring to UH-Manoa at a later date.

“I am so-o-o-o happy to get this (scholarship award), Ojano-Daly said. “My parents are divorced, it’s been a really tough time with a lot of concern over the money part of college, and I wanted to do something for myself to help take the burden off them.

“This will be a big help financially,” she said, “and it’s made us all happy, my parents are so proud of me, it’s just a great feeling.”

She recently recorded a personal best in the 400 meters and Ojano-Daly sings in the same of academically inclined voices that find mental nourishment through physical activity.

“I’ve been running for a long time, since before I was serious about planning for college,” she said, “and that won’t stop. It’s like I can’t stop running, I couldn’t live with myself without it.”

Caleb Rogers, a senior from Hilo High School, will take his scholarship money and apply it to tuition coasts at Michigan Tech, where he will enroll in electrical engineering.

A sprinter and high jumper who also competes in in the 100 hurdles, Rogers discovered how well his track efforts compliment his studies in engineering.

“It all works together, healthy body, healthy mind,” he said, “I really believe that. The high jump, the hurdles? It’s all about technique, and that applies very much to electrical engineering, it’s technique, technique.”

The athletics application is obvious. All of sports involve technique but few are more obviously attached to it than is the high jump. It’s not just the steps in the run up that are measured, it’s the distance of the steps, the angle, the acceleration, then it gets complicated with hundreds of combinations of methods used to get over the bar.

You hope your electrical engineer knows technique and you hope your journalists have a clear head when they write.

Keaau High’s Madison Pratt is another one who gets it. She looks around and sees issues, many of which hit lower Puna harder than most locations on the Big Island, even without lava breakouts.

“I want to make a difference,” she said. “I want to be a teacher.”

There’s no way to know where she will end up, but she’ll start down that path at Montana State University in the fall and go from there. Pratt is following in the path of her own school-teacher mom.

“It just opened my mind to the possibilities when I saw my mom working with students on different things, taking her time to help,” she said. “I could see she was energized about helping people, that’s what I want to do.”

The scholarship money will take a bigger bite out of tuition at Montana State than it will at the University of Chicago, “But really, everything helps,” Pratt said, “costs keep going up everywhere.”

Pratt runs middle distances, but you will see her in 5Ks, 10Ks, and she ran the Hilo-to-Volcano ultra marathon one time.

At Montana State she plans to run cross-country and track, but one way or another, she will be running on a school or a club team.

“It’s just important to me,” she said, “it’s got to be the greatest stress reliever there is, I always, always feel so much better after a good run.”

For a time, the problems melt away, and you just feel good inside, good enough to get back to some mental exercise, whether it’s strategies for teaching grade school or studying computer science.


With a big Aloha from the Big Island ohana.

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