Kahuku High & Intermediate School is located on the North Shore of the Hawaiian Island of Oahu and has become famous for producing football players who have gone on to play at the collegiate and professional level. Some have even gone on to win the Super Bowl. Kahuku has played in 12 of Hawaii’s 19 state championship games since 1999, winning eight times.
Current Brigham Young University (BYU) director of player personnel Jack Damuni, a Kahuku High alumnus, said, “My family came from Fiji because of the Polynesian Cultural Center and the Church College of Hawaii. That’s why that area is filled with so many Polynesians, because of the [LDS] church. You’re playing with guys from different nationalities and ethnicities, you’re playing with guys from Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, all the Polynesian islands."
Of the Pacific Islander Americans in the United States, Hawai'i makes up 26% of the population, with a total of 392,016 Pacific Islanders. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) built a temple in La`ie, Hawai’i in 1919. The area attracted Mormons of Samoan and Tongan descent from Utah’s Great Basin who began playing football on the North Shore before World War II. A group of football coaches crafted a microculture around football at Kahuku High School.
The prominence of this high school was highlighted on Thursday, January 19th, when the NFL Network aired a 30-minute program on the Kahuku High & Intermediate School football team. This special introduced the Polynesian community on the North Shore of Hawaiʻi and a community centered around Kahuka football. Another showing of the program was held the next day before the 2023 Polynesian Bowl, presented by the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame.
Mark Quenzel, NFL Senior Vice President and Head of Content said, "The impact of the Polynesian community throughout the National Football League is profound and extensive, and we look forward to providing a platform for the next generation of Polynesian talent to showcase their skills and talent."
Around 70 Polynesian players are currently on NFL rosters such as DeForest Buckner, Talanoa Hufanga, Marcus Mariota, Jordan Mailata, Jordan Poyer, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Penei Sewell, Ronnie Stanley, Tua Tagovailoa, Vita Vea and Zach Wilson. Polynesian Hall of Famers include Junior Seau, Kevin Mawae and Troy Polamalu.
With American Samoa located nearly 6,000 miles away from the United States mainland, Samoans make up about 3% of the NFL. American sports agent Leigh Steinberg estimated that, “A Samoan male is 56 times more likely to play in the NFL than an American non-Samoan.” And even outside of the NFL, there are around 300 Samoans playing in Division I collegiate leagues throughout the United States.
America’s most popular sport would not be the same without Hawaiʻi’s Polynesian diaspora. The NFL’s decision to feature the special on Kahuku High & Intermediate School and the Polynesian Bowl highlights the dedication and major contribution of Polynesians to this traditionally American sport.
Bobby Kincaid is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington. He is a recent graduate from American University with a major in International Relations with a concentration on China and Taiwan.