Most people who read this section of the newspaper have a team, or teams they support and over time we come to feel a real attachment with “our teams.” When they win, we’re happy, when they lose we grumble and moan.
At its best, we get to the point of feeling pride in our team’s accomplishments, as if we had anything to do with it. We don’t, we’re fans, associating ourselves with others who accomplish great things.
But here’s a level of connection in athletic accomplishment in which we can feel a partner at some level to others we may not have ever personally met. It is here today in the four winners of the annual Wayne “Big Dog” Joseph scholarships that pay $1,500 each to four graduating seniors, now alums, heading off to college.
The abbreviated narratives of these four teenagers give us reason to pause and consider what our place and our people can be when combined with energy and belief.
You may have never heard of these people, but we all live here, we are all a part of communities in which genuine aspiration and accomplishment can occur. We all have reasons to be proud of these four.
A Grand Grandmother
From as far back as he can recall, his grandmother was always a part of the family, she attended his competitions, encouraged him to work hard in school. For Waiakea High School alum Eric Cabais-Fernandez, his grandmother was an inspiration every day, and even more when she passed.
“It was lung cancer,” Cabais-Fernandez said, “I watched her being taken by it, I watched her die with my own eyes. She told me, ‘Even though I’m sick I feel safe in these people’s hands, and they give me hope.’
“I want to give back to the community,” he said.
That’s why Cabais-Fernandez is off to Fresno Pacific University where the school has a top-rated masters program in nursing, which he sees as his career.
He is moved to take these steps and you get the idea it will likely work out well for him, based on his brief athletic history that included him taking up cross country at Waiakea as freshman in 2015, as a way to stay in shape for baseball.
Waiakea had never achieved much in cross-country and he was a self-described “outcast, because nobody knew me or expected anything from me.”
That season, he helped his team score points for the first time, and it went on to win the BIIF title, then did it again four years in a row after never having previously finished well. He took up pole vaulting, wound up clearing 15 feet, three inches and his partial scholarship to FPU is for his pole vaulting proficiency and promise.
“My goal was to clear 15 feet,” he said, “now my goal is to clear 16 feet and go higher and higher.”
He’s headed in the right direction.
The One and Only
On Memorial Day, in many parts of the world, veterans of war will gather at cemeteries to pay respects to the fallen and, in most places, they will hear:
“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below… “
It goes on, but if you ever heard it recited, you could feel the words deep inside. Today, at Veteran’s Cemetery, the poem will be read once again for the sixth consecutive year by Hilo High School alum Sam Marrack, who has done it since she was 13.
She went to the first ceremony when she was 12, and got involved immediately, helping set up and take down arrangements and she was asked if she wanted to do more.
They wouldn’t have asked if they knew her better.
Marrack is the only female in the state to be awarded the Spaatz Award — only 15 have ever achieved it — delivered to a Civil Air Patrol cadet who can complete a ridiculously intensive five-year process that includes challenging tests on leadership and aerospace, an expository essay on a question of “perennial moral debate,” and then there’s the physical part which requires, for women, 78 sit-ups, 41 push-ups and completing a mile run in less than 7:30.
It’s what she wanted.
When she decided to join the Civil Air Patrol at 11 after visiting the Lyman Field CAP hangar for the first time, it was to follow in the footsteps of a woman lead cadet who was aging out of the youth program. Marrack, the only female in CAP at the time, decided to be the role model for others. She became one of 0.5 percent of cadets nationwide to pass the Spaatz regimen.
She’s a dedicated runner, headed off to Emery College in Atlanta to further her goal of being a physician, but she is far more than that. She is a leader.
Growing Up Fast
Josiah Rodriguez remembers the look on his mother’s face, he remembers the feeling of fear and vulnerability.
There was a time after his father passed away when Josiah was 6-years-old, that a convict was on the loose, described as dangerous and many thought he was in the Honokaa area.
“I felt it when I saw my mom’s face,” Rodriguez said, “I could feel the fear and I didn’t want her or anyone else I knew to feel like that, so I decided I should do something about it.”
Rodriguez will be attending Chaminade University in the fall because of its highly rated criminal justice program, but in time, he intends to return to the Big Island as an FBI special agent.
It’s a long way from where he once was as a youngster when he was bullied, ridiculed and picked on, he said, for not having a father. He was offered an opportunity to attend the first Camp Erin Hawaii — the largest bereavement program for youth grieving the death of a significant person in their lives — and the experience changed the direction of his life.
He learned coping techniques and became a “leader in training” in the program to help others. Along the way, he started running “to help clear my mind,” and has been a passionate runner ever since.
He plays soccer and hopes to continue to do so, but the running will always be with him.
“It taught me to push myself,” he said, “that I can do more than I think I can. I will always run.”
Protecting the Islands
At Keaau High School, Madison Directo kept herself busy in a variety of sports, from cross country to soccer, swimming and track, but through it all, she kept in touch with the land, or, more precisely, the land and the water.
She will pursue environmental studies at Chaminade because she feels a need to help “engineer ways to protect what our island has,” and while she has no intention to compete in college, she has no plans to quit running, which has given her a lot.
“It was hard,” she said, “all of it, especially when I tried track, but I feel like I got something out of it.
“Honestly, I’m not all that competitive with (running), but I know I need to keep in shape, I know I feel better after a good run so no plans to quit.”
She felt part of a team as a swimmer and won an award at the school for being the most improved swimmer over a year. Similarly, she wasn’t the fastest runner, but as she felt more a part of the team her times improved, steadily.
In her bio, she stated, sports were “a way for me to meet people from school; people who I would never have got the pleasure of meeting otherwise. Sports bonded us together, giving us a closeness. We push together through the pain, even when we think we cannot do it.”
Some of that experience will be needed in her academic track to work toward maintaining and improving the environment.
“Chaminade gave me the most in terms of the environmental studies I was looking for,” she said, “I just think it’s important and I want to be a part of the help we need.
“There’s a lot happening out there environmentally, a lot of groups, lots of people doing good work, but I just feel like if our generation doesn’t get in on it and really push and work, it can fall apart and we can’t have that, our generation needs to keep it going in every way we can.”
Contact Bart with ideas for people and groups in the community that need attention. Email firstname.lastname@example.org