Keith Amemiya has opened giant boxes of aloha through the sports world in the 50th state for many years, but his biggest, most recent swing at fundraising for a worthy cause appears to be a home run.
The executive director of the Central Pacific Bank Foundation and former executive director of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association has been working behind the scenes to raise funds to benefit 450 student-athletes and more than 40 coaches displaced by the wildfire that leveled Lahaina on Aug. 8. More than $325,000 has been pledged so far.
Amemiya is spearheading the launch of the Luna Strong fundraising campaign with the help of the Downtown Athletic Club of Hawaii.
The thought of reaching out to help came quickly to Amemiya after the fire disaster and the positive response snowballed quickly.
“The response has been amazing, this campaign or the planning for the campaign started only about two weeks ago when I was approached by Lahainaluna’s athletic director, Jon Conrad, and he mentioned how much need there was for his student-athletes and coaches who lost their homes and everything with it in the recent fire,” Amemiya said via phone from Oahu on Wednesday. “As you know, approximately 450 student-athletes and 40 (Lahainaluna) coaches lost their homes, so the athletes mentioned to him they wanted to do something productive. They wanted to pursue their passions while they waited for school to reopen, they didn’t have anything in terms of sports equipment. Like shoes, or baseball bats, or basketballs and he asked if there’s any way I could help.
“He also mentioned the fact that they are financially strapped and that state tournament travel cost will be an issue, so I started reaching out to the business community, to professional athletes and others and everybody has stepped up and nobody has said ‘no’ at this point and it’s really gratifying.”
The main goals of the venture that officially kicks off today include:
— Raise funds to replace the sports equipment/supplies lost by the 450 Lahainaluna High School student-athletes whose homes were destroyed in the fires, such as football cleats, basketball shoes, tennis racquets and baseball/softball bats.
— Raise funds to support the 40 Lahainaluna coaches who lost their homes in the fires, particularly those who’ve coached there for 25-plus years.
— Cover the entire cost of state tournament travel for all Lahainaluna teams that qualify for state tournaments this school year.
— Sell “Luna Strong” T-shirts, with all proceeds going towards the Luna Strong fundraising campaign. Sae Designs’ Saedene Ota of Wailuku designed the T-shirt.
— All funds received will be collected by DACH and disbursed in consultation with the Lahainaluna Athletics Department and school administration.
Some impressive donation have already been made to get the campaign rolling:
— Hawaii Community Foundation’s Maui Strong Fund, $100,000;
— Oahu Interscholastic Association, $75,000;
— Central Pacific Bank Foundation, $50,000;
— Bank of Hawaii, $35,000;
— American Savings Bank, $25,000;
— First Hawaiian Bank, $25,000;
— Hawaii Pacific Health, $5,000
— Marcus Mariota, football cleats to all varsity and junior varsity football players plus shoes for all football coaches; $10,000 to Luna football program;
— Nike/Iolani Classic, basketball shoes and other basketball supplies/equipment for all boys and girls basketball players;
— Shane Victorino, baseball/softball cleats and other supplies/equipment for all baseball and softball players;
— Mark Rolfing, golf equipment/supplies for all boys and girls golfers;
— Young Brothers, four shipping containers to store athletic equipment/supplies in Kihei where the teams are currently practicing due to the Lahainaluna campus being closed and to store donated school supplies and equipment on campus when school reopens;
— Hawaiian Airlines, Pagoda Hotel, Enterprise Rent a Car, and Zippy’s have all committed to cover the state tournament airline, hotel, ground transportation, and meal costs for all Lahainaluna state tournament teams this school year;
— ESPN Honolulu is the official radio partner of the Luna Strong campaign, aio Media and aio Digital are the official magazine and digital partners, respectively.
In all, $325,000 plus numerous in-kind contributions have been received to kick off the Luna Strong campaign.
Donations to the Luna Strong Fund by other companies and the public are encouraged and can be made online at downtownathleticclubhawaii.org or by check made payable to: “DACH – Luna Strong Fund”, P.O. Box 3590, Honolulu, HI 96811.
For more information on DACH and the Luna Strong Fund, go to downtownathleticclubhawaii.org.
Longtime Lahainaluna football coach Garret Tihada was one of nine football coaches to lose his house in the blaze and he received a call and then a check from Iolani football coach Wendell Look, the football coach at Iolani School. The Lunas and the Raiders have combined to win 13 state titles since 2007 — they have met in four state championship games in that span.
“I think I’ve been in touch with Keith since a few days after the fire, maybe even the day after the fire,” Tihada said. “He reached out, just wanting to know what he can do from Oahu to help, whether it’s supplies, funding even. His big push was that Lahaina needs to get their football program back, that the kids need to get back in school in Lahaina and they need to play a game in our stadium.
“We need to play in our stadium, that was his big push, for the sake of the community. And those same thoughts were echoed by the community. So, that was awesome for him to understand that.”
The DACH is a non-profit organization devoted to supporting sports programs and initiatives in Hawaii. It was formed in 2012 by the owners and top executives of trusted downtown Hawaii businesses.
DACH’s previous fundraising efforts raised $131,500 to support the Molokai and Lanai high school athletic departments with their costly air and ferry transportation expenses and raised $30,000 for the Pacific Islands Athletic Alliance, an organization that was dedicated to helping over 1,200 college-bound athletes from Hawaii and American Samoa with athletic and academic scholarships, grants and financial aid.
Lahainaluna co-head coach Dean Rickard is, like Tihada, overwhelmed by what he has been told of the efforts. The Lunas are scheduled to start classes as a “school within a school” next week at Kulanihako’i High School in Kihei, and the state Department of Education has set a goal of returning to school in Lahaina after fall break, which is slated for Oct. 9-13.
The Lunas’ first scheduled game is against Baldwin at War Memorial Stadium on Sept. 30 and their first home game at Sue Cooley Stadium is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 7 against Maui High.
Rickard said nine of 18 football coaches lost their houses in the inferno and he estimates 75 percent of the football players did as well. The team has been working out voluntarily at Vernon Patao’s HI Performance gym in Kahului for the last few weeks and the numbers have grown each session, from below 30 at first to now more than 50.
“I mean that is what the true spirit of aloha is,” Rickard said when told of the list of contributors to the Luna Strong fun. “And Hawaii has always expressed that in its best way. This is a testament to that exact spirit and emotion. People can always say this, that, but when you actually see action being taken through financial assistance, thoughts and prayers by all these people and organizations — they understand the gravity of what happened in Lahaina and how it’s going to impact not only the families, the community.
“It will immediately impact the families and the community, but the longterm effect that it’s going to have for everyone in the community, it starts with them helping out these kids. … It just brings a little comfort and assurance that, ‘Hey, we got your back.’ That is what the aloha spirit is all about.”
* Robert Collias is at [email protected]