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A final farewell to Aloha Stadium: Fans share their emotion-filled memories

Thousands of people gathered at Aloha Stadium on Saturday to explore locker rooms and set foot on the field. The steel stadium is expected to demolished in late 2023.
Casey Harlow / HPR
Thousands of people gathered at Aloha Stadium on Saturday to explore locker rooms and set foot on the field. The steel stadium is expected to be demolished in late 2023.

To lifelong University of Hawaiʻi football fans like Clinton Ogata, Aloha Stadium is home.

"I grew up here — ever since I was a boy all the way till now in my 40s. But this place is home . . . It's gonna be really sad when it gets torn down," Ogata said.

Ogata first went to a UH game with his grandparents as a boy. He said he remembers specifically sitting in the south end zone's blue section.

Clinton Ogata has been going to UH football games at Aloha Stadium his entire life. "This has always been home for me," he said. "It's definitely special, and it's gonna be really sad when it gets torn down."
Casey Harlow / HPR
Clinton Ogata has been going to UH football games at Aloha Stadium his entire life. "This has always been home for me," he said. "It's definitely special, and it's gonna be really sad when it gets torn down."

Ogata was one of the thousands of people who gathered on Saturday to tour Aloha Stadium and give one last goodbye.

The venue has been closed to fan events since December 2020. However, the facility opened up for a special, once-in-a-lifetime event where anyone could walk through the locker rooms, see memorabilia and even purchase a piece of the stadium.

Ogata purchased an orange stadium seat — but the main attraction for him, and many fans, was a chance to step onto the field.

For fans, it was the first — and last — time to experience the view from the player's perspective.

"Just putting myself in the players' position, and just how it must have felt just getting ready for game time must have felt awesome," Ogata said. "That was always one of my dreams, but [I was] too small, never played organized football. But just always supported the team."

Aloha Stadium opened in 1975. For many years, it was home to UH football and the NFL's Pro Bowl, but it was also the home of the Hawaiʻi Islanders baseball team and Team Hawaiʻi soccer in the 1970s and 1980s.

The San Francisco 49ers mascot holds up a thank-you sign for Hawaiʻi fans during the Pro Bowl NFL football game at Aloha Stadium, in Honolulu on Sunday, Feb. 8, 2009. (AP Photo/Ronen Zilberman)
Ronen Zilberman/AP
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FR83211 AP
The San Francisco 49ers mascot holds up a thank-you sign for Hawaiʻi fans during the Pro Bowl NFL football game at Aloha Stadium, in Honolulu on Sunday, Feb. 8, 2009. (AP Photo/Ronen Zilberman)

It was also the venue for big music acts throughout the years — such as Michael Jackson, Bruno Mars, The Rolling Stones, U2 and more.

But for many, memories of the stadium go back to high school.

For Katharine Kishaba, Aloha Stadium is filled with memories of her high school and college years. She performed in both the ʻAiea High School and UH marching bands.

Katharine Kishaba performed at Aloha Stadium as a member of both the Aiea High School and UH marching bands. "For a band kid, that's like the pinnacle. The same way the football guys are like 'Oh, we just want to play at the Stadium,'" she said.
Casey Harlow / HPR
Katharine Kishaba performed at Aloha Stadium as a member of both the ʻAiea High School and UH marching bands. "For a band kid, that's like the pinnacle. The same way the football guys are like 'Oh, we just want to play at the Stadium,'" she said.

"In 2003, [ʻAiea High's football] team did surprisingly well, and we got to play in the Division 2 State Championships against Damien," Kishaba said. "That was probably one of the greatest games that we've ever seen. I'm sorry to say that I actually don't remember whether we won or not, but it was a great game!"

Kishaba told HPR that being able to perform in the stadium is the pinnacle for "band kids."

Besides the performers and fans, workers who attended most games have fond memories of the arena as well.

"Honest to God, came late because we were still at school. I think it was an early game, like 4 o'clock," one security guard said. "We skipped practice to walk into Chad Owens's kickoff return [for a touchdown]. And it was the most surreal. Like crowd going off, literally walked in and the whole frickin' stadium just started shaking."

Aloha Stadium is expected to be demolished later this year, making way for the proposed new Aloha Stadium Entertainment District. The redevelopment would include a smaller stadium surrounded by housing and commercial real estate.

Aloha Stadium itself was a replacement. Before 1975, UH and other professional sports teams played at Honolulu Stadium in Mōʻiliʻili.

Kishaba told HPR that her parents have shared memories of Honolulu Stadium, affectionately called "The Termite Palace."

But Honolulu Stadium's wooden infrastructure was not the only arena to receive a nickname. After years of wear and tear, Aloha Stadium has been called "The Rust Palace," because of its deteriorating metal seats.

"In a way, it's kind of pre-nostalgic. Because I'm going to be just like them someday. We're gonna be like, 'Oh man, I remember The Rust Palace. I was there,'" she said.

"Sure, you're going to talk about it in the same joking fondness, because, yeah, there are holes under my seat and I accept that."

Casey Harlow / HPR
For many fans, Saturday's 'Aloha' to Aloha Stadium event was the first, and last, time they are able to set foot on the stadium's iconic field.

Several fans told HPR they have mixed feelings about whether or not UH football should return to a new stadium. But one thing attendees agreed on is that the stadium has a significant place within the community.

"Comparing it to other stadium I've been to, colleges I've been to, this place needs to be teared down, and be better for the people of Hawaiʻi. That's my honest feeling about it," one security guard told HPR.

For Ogata, he hopes it gets built quickly.

"No matter what, support the boys," Ogata said. "But it's super uncomfortable, and they deserve a place of their own with a lot of fans."

Casey Harlow was an HPR reporter and occasionally filled in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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