Hawaii’s defending girls basketball state champs are headed to Washington D.C.
The Konawaena Wildcats, six-time state champions in the last dozen years, are one of 48 teams across the nation that have been invited to participate in the prestigious Title IX Tournament and Conference to be held Dec. 27-30 at the D.C. Armory in our nation’s capital.
This three-day, four-bracket tournament widens opportunities for female student-athletes as teams with highly recruited players compete against local talent before a wide range of coaches and scouts seeking to award scholarships — scholarships made possible because of the passage of Title IX.
Konawaena returns a strong lineup of six returnees who were part of the team that defeated Lahainaluna of Maui 51-41 to win the Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournament in March. The wildcats feature Chanelle Molina, the state’s top player and the most recruited girls basketball player in Hawaii high school history.
Also returning are starters Mercedes “Ihi” Victor, Mikayla Tablit, and sisters Celena Molina and Cherilyn Molina. They are joined by returnee Mahie Kaawa and newcomer Jenny Fong. The Wildcats, who were ranked 20th in the nation last year, are favored to repeat as state champions in 2015.
While participating in the tournament and conference in D.C., the team will also tour important institutions, monuments and sites within the District of Columbia. The event is sponsored by the Sankofa Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising the bar of expectations for girls, particularly as scholar-athletes. It also seeks to raise the expectations of the systems and communities that support them.
The team is seeking a title sponsor for this event in return for any type of marketing opportunities for the sponsor as amateur athletics will allow. If a title sponsor cannot be identified, the committee hopes to seek smaller donations by businesses and individuals who have supported the program in the past and see the value of the Konawaena girls basketball program. Many of Coach Bobbie Awa’s players have had the opportunity to receive college educations, and some of them have returned to Kona and Hawaii and become role models to new generations of scholar athletes.
The companion conference will allow participants to learn about Title IX, but more importantly. the girls will be empowered to self advocate in the area of sports, STEM careers, leadership, public speaking, financial literacy, citizenship and civics.
“This experience will last a life time for some of our girls,” said Awa. “We’ve been invited to other good tournaments, but this is an opportunity for them to learn about Title IX, where their opportunities came from.”
A committee has been formed by Athletic Director Bill Trumbo to come up with donations to defray the cost of this trip for the team and coaches. This committee is made up of Trumbo, head coach Awa and Bobby Command, Konawaena booster and deputy planning director for the County of Hawaii. Separate travel packages will also be available for basketball fans who would like to accompany the team to Washington D.C.
“The success at Konawaena doesn’t just happen,” said Trumbo. “It takes the passion and commitment of someone like Coach Awa. I see this trip as recognition for all her years of building this program.”
There is reason to believe that the Kona girls have a shot at faring well in this tournament. The 2014 version of the Wildcats gained national prominence during the Iolani Classic by defeating No. 23-ranked Miramonte 63-62 and No. 1-seeded Riverdale Baptist (Md.) 49-41, before falling to St. Mary’s of California 68-59 in what would be the team’s only loss of the season. The Wildcats finished 31-1 and ranked 23rd in the nation.
“This is just like the movie ‘Hoosiers,'” said Command. “This is a small team from a tiny school in a far off corner of an isolated state traveling to the big city miles to play some of the top teams in the nation.”
Konawaena High School is a firm supporter of equal opportunities for female scholar athletes, which were made possible by the 1972 passage of Title IX co-authored and introduced by Sen. Birch Bayh (Ind.) and Hawaii Rep. Patsy Takemoto Mink, the first Asian-American woman to serve in Congress.
Now known as the Patsy Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act, it states, in part, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”