For Hawaiian National Girls Team, Wrestling Is Ohana
By Bill X. Barron
Girls wrestling in Hawaii was first sanctioned in 1998, with the unique concept that boys and girls – similar to tennis, track, and swimming – would compete side-by-side in the same event. Thus, wrestling on the islands represents the native warrior spirit, regardless of gender. Coach Kevin Grant of Team Hawaii relates: “Hawaii created a culture where girls can get tougher against other girls. Wrestling here is ‘ohana’ – family. We feel it in our hearts. Because we are a community of islands, that builds a sense of unity, of belonging to our state, our island, our community, our club.” Rejoins national team member Tayler Hayase: “We look out for each other.”
Team Hawaii brought fifty athletes, twenty-four of whom were girls, to the 2018 Western States Championships in Idaho. Though there were over 700 athletes from fourteen states, several Hawaiian girls became individual champions: ten folkstyle, nine Greco, and nine freestyle titlists. Earning Triple Crowns for winning all three styles were Waipuilani Estrella-Beauchamp (Jr. 132), Jahnea Miguel (Jr. 138), Bella Williams (Elem. 73), and Jahlia Miguel (El. 93) for the girls, as well as Oscar Williams (Sch. 106) and Kahili Joy (Cadet 120) for the boys. In Hawaii, the majority of competition is in folkstyle; the Hawaiian female athletes note that girls here are more experienced in freestyle, so they like to throw more!
After Westerns, eight females on the Hawaiian National Team remained stateside in Colorado at the Sons of Thunder Wrestling Academy (SOT) to train for Fargo. One girl, Kapoina Bailey, Hawaii Girls State Champ at 168, not only plays as the only girl on the varsity football team, but she will also follow Fargo with training at the USA High School All American Future Olympian Can-Am Rugby 7's Camp.
SOT “has welcomed us like family,” says Coach Grant. Coach Nathan Williams, born on Maui and the national team leader, has spent the past year teaching along with wife Liza at SOT, where “I can have any idea – like housing and training our Fargo team for three weeks. While that may seem like a burden to others, to Coaches Jeff Estrada and Luke Morris, it is an opportunity. If it involves wrestling, Jeff says ‘yes’ to anything involving kids getting better with their goals and dreams.” Adds Coach Grant, “At SOT, we feel like we belong.”
Competing in the States is becoming more common for Hawaiian wrestlers. Western Triple Crowner Jahnea Miguel, who also played boys football in her youth, has competed several times in the elite Freak Show, jointly produced by RMN Events and NUWAY. Not only is Jahnea impressed with the size of the event (3500 competitors on 34 mats), but she also loves the “cool opening ceremonies” and appreciates that it is “one of the toughest and most competitive tournaments” in which she wrestles.
Western States champion Nanea Estrella cites: “We fly 5 hours; therefore, we are hungry, we want it. We have to work hard, fundraise – it is not handed to us. Our parents, community are great; they donate time and money to support our cause. We work harder in the room knowing others are breaking their backs for us.” Waipuilani reminds you that “our parents taught us it is not only about ourselves.” Many families sacrifice their own needs, as well as organizing events such as bake sales of banana bread and smoked meat, in order to raise the more than $2000 it costs to send each wrestler to Idaho, Colorado, then North Dakota for a month of wrestling.
These intrepid and articulate girls from Hawaii, every one a tough competitor, know that they must have each other’s back. Triple Crown winner Waipuilani declares: “I would not be part of any other team. And I would not be the person I am today without wrestling.” Kapoina chimes in: “If you don’t work hard, the blame is on you. I learned through wrestling to face challenges, not to run away.” Adds Roxie Umu, 184-lb. Hawaiian State Champ: “Wrestling has taught me self-achievement. Wrestling is like natural selection: only the fittest survive. It also teaches you integrity – there’s no lying about what the scale says about your weight.” Nanea follows: “The sport has taught me how to stay calm and approach a situation with my head when someone head snaps you. There’s no time to party. Wrestling sets you up for life: how to budget, discipline yourself.” Concludes Tianna Fernandez: “Life gives you the respect you earn.”
Warm and welcoming, each young woman from the beautiful Pacific islands is unique, yet all share in “spreading ‘aloha’ – love, hello, goodbye altogether. We care, we have heart. We invite others into our lives,” states Waipuilani. Adds Nanea: “We have been trained by our parents to look out for others, to show respect for those who help us.” Sami Saribay points out: “We were raised with discipline. Our parents are really in our lives, so we treat them with respect.” For girls from Hawaii, their approach to new opportunities is a huge ‘mahalo’ – thank you.
Each year over 400 girls from every Hawaiian island come together at the nation’s largest all-girls tournament, the Pa’ani Challenge, where the organizers pay for all travel, meal, and lodging expenses. Although they are competitors on the mat, they are encouraged to practice with girls from other clubs and islands. The tournament’s mantra – “Nan ‘Opio Kulana Ki’e” or “Are You Who Stand Majestic” – speaks to the way in which women as warriors are celebrated in the Hawaiian culture. Focusing on the character which is forged through facing life’s adversity, the tournament recognizes a young woman with the Most Heart Award, along with $1000 scholarship, for one who has overcome hardship. All assembled give audience to hear this young person’s story of courage.
Coach Williams, whom the girls appreciate for not only taking them all over, but for also planning fun activities, says that “these girls have loads of talent, drive, and work ethic – but nowhere to show it except on the islands.” For talented wrestlers like Nanea, “it’s more fun to wrestle girls who know what they are doing.” Nathan continues: “Kevin & I have dedicated ourselves to providing them with the opportunity to show their greatness. In our culture, we are all together regardless of gender. There is now a full generation of girls who have followed sisters, brothers, and parents into the sport of wrestling.”
For Coach Grant, trips like these to the mainland are special because Hawaiian women grapplers “deserve more opportunity to experience success. On the islands, there are no camps, no recruitment. These women are warriors – it’s part of our culture.” Waipuilani, who has also competed in Jiu Jitsu, quotes an ancient island saying: “Blood can make us related, but loyalty makes us family.” Nanea reminds us that “when I wrestle Waipuilani, we are no longer cousins, we are opponents. On the other hand, when someone has an issue, we all get involved.” Tayler reaffirms: “In our final team duals versus Team Washington, it became physical. But if they attack one of us, we all come to each other’s defense.”