Hawaiian national women's soccer team to represent lāhui for the first time
Soccer is not the first sport people think of when they think of Hawaiʻi. But for Punahou High School senior Jordyn Eldredge Sagapolutele, making the Hawaiian National Team is a badge of honor.
"I'm glad to represent where I come from and who I am in my culture," she said.
Eldredge-Sagapolutele was chosen from a pool of about 300 Native Hawaiian soccer players across the state to represent her lāhui, or nation, on the first-ever Hawaiian National Team.
"Being the first ever of a national team, they don’t understand what it is now… But in 20, 30 years when you get older, you’re like wow, we did that," said Denise Eldredge Sagapolutele, Jordyn's mother.
Vernon Kapuaʻala is the co-founder of Hui Kānaka Pōwāwae, the Hawaiian Football Federation in charge of running the Hawaiian National Team Program — and dealing with its challenges.
"I basically thought I was going go there, 'Eh FIFA, this is our right to football,' and they was going say 'Okay great. All righty, go start building your team.' And that's not what happened," said Kapuaʻala.
FIFA, the International Federation of Association Football, would not recognize a national Hawaiian team.
However, long-time professional soccer coach and scout Ian Mork said there's a precedent. He said in Catalonia, the community used football to claim their identity and showcase their culture. "Because they never saw themselves as a part of Spain," Mork said.
For many Native Hawaiians like Kapuaʻala and his wife, Hawaiʻi remains an illegally occupied nation, and sports are just another path to recovering that Hawaiian national identity.
"This country that had a national character and identity, internationally, that was a leader in the Pacific," said Trisha Kapuaʻala. "We’re bringing that back. What that could do to our young children and families to know that there's this proud national history, using football as the vehicle."
Aside from fitness and footwork, players will also be immersed in Hawaiian culture, language and history. Kekoa Harman, whose daughter and son both made the Hawaiian National Team, said realizing the importance of a strong Hawaiian identity opens up a world of opportunity.
"‘O ka ʻike ʻana i ka mea nui o ka paʻa o ka pīkoʻu, ‘o kēia mea o ka ʻike ʻana ʻo wai kou ʻohana? No hea mai ʻoe? Ma hea kou piko? ke paʻa kēlā, e hiki ana ke puka i ke ao, puka lanakila," Harman said.
In ʻŌlelo Hawaiian, he said it's like knowing who your family is and where you come from — once that's secure, one can go out into the world a winner.
Training is on hold this week as players wrap up their high school soccer season at the state tournament on Oʻahu. The Punahou High School girls were the runner-up in last year's competition with Eldredge-Sagapolutele scoring in every game in the tournament, except the final.
"Which was a tough loss for us, but I think we're better prepared this year and more connected so I think it's definitely possible for us to win on Saturday," Eldredge-Sagapolutele said.