Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Editor
No-one was really paying attention to the scoreboard this weekend at Kealakehe High School football stadium.
A pair of games, organized by Alumni Football USA, featured athletes who had hung up their cleats after high school, but were itching to play one more game.
Saturday evening’s game matched up Kealakehe and Konawaena, while Sunday afternoon saw Waiakea take on Honokaa. Final scores: Konawaena 24, Kealakehe 12; and Waiakea 39, Honokaa 0.
“That was so awesome. And so fun. It did bring back a lot of old memories,” said Matt Kakalia, Class of 2006. “As soon as you hit the field, you remember all those memories from high school games.”
Kakalia, who lives in Kona but suited up for Honokaa, said he was most impressed with some of the athletes who graduated from high school before he was born in 1988.
“Like, Fred Lindsey. He was great,” Kakalia said.
Lindsey, Class of 1979, also suited up for Honokaa and was given a medal for being the oldest player on the field Sunday. Lindsey, who lives in Seattle, flew in especially for the game.
Saturday night’s ‘oldest honor’ went to Hano Grace, who graduated Konawaena in 1993.
After Saturday night’s game, Jerry Mareko was dirty, tired and happy.
The Konawaena 1998 graduate, who last played football in 2009 in college, said he had a blast.
“College ball was nothing like now. I got to play with my younger brother, my older brother and my cousins. These guys are my heroes. It was awesome,” he said.
Mareko, who helped organize the games on the Big Island, said another highlight was being able to earn some money for youth activities and programs.
“We’re just a bunch of muscleheads out here, but we got to raise some money, so that was really the best thing,” he said. “I’d just like to really thank everyone who came out tonight.”
Alumni Football USA presented a check to team captain Mareko for more than $6,000. Once all the pre-sale tickets and concessions are tallied, that total is expected to near $10,000 and will be split between three Pop Warner football teams, a youth baseball team and the Kealakehe robotics program.
Bob Cazet, Hawaii site coordinator for Alumni Football USA, said he was pleased to bring the program to the Big Island.
“We had over 700 guys sign up statewide and I can guarantee we’ll have more than that next year,” Cazet said. “Once these guys get a taste of the game again, they’ll be watching the DVD and talking about it for 20 more years.”
Cazet, who has been involved in alumni games since 1985, said the athletes who return to the field do so for the love of the game and the camaraderie.
“But there is even higher reason. In high school, there is a lot of tension, now these guys are a little more mature and can enjoy it,” he said. “We can affect the community, so that’s a great plus.”
Kealakehe stadium was packed for the Saturday night game, with people standing four or five deep along the walkway and sitting in the aisles.
“I’ve never seen it like this,” Mareko said. “Totally great.”
Pacing the walkway Saturday evening was Ed Rocha, who coached Waiakea High School football for 18 years and was anxious to get back on the sideline for the Sunday afternoon game.
“These guys surprised a lot of people just by showing up,” he said. “There are about 30 guys signed up who I coached before, plus some guys from Hilo. It’s impressive. We’re glad this got off the ground. It’s really about giving back to the schools.”
Standing in line at the concession stand Saturday evening, Keoki Rivera wanted to hurry up, get his chili-n-rice and get back to his seat.
“This is pretty crazy. It’s so good to see all my old friends lining up again,” he said.
Rivera, a Konawaena Class of 1996 alumni, said he wasn’t really rooting for either team.
“I know guys on both sides, so I don’t really care, but I can’t believe the atmosphere tonight,” he said. “It’s so great. All families and friends. I love it.”
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