Honored Polynesian football players attributed their success to their families, coaches and culture during the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame at the Polynesian Cultural Center on Jan. 21 as part of a weekend of celebration.
The five inductees of the 2017 PFHOF class were Christopher Kealoha Naeole, Junior Ah You, Ma‘a Tanuvasa, Riki Morgan Ellison, and John Manumaleuna, who was nominated posthumously. Additionally, Marcus Mariota and Sefo Liufau were honored as the 2016 professional and collegiate Polynesian football players of the year.
In his acceptance speech, Tanuvasa spoke of the Polynesian players who had paved the way for him. He said, “For you young guys, they already set the blue print for you to follow. It’s why we started the Polynesian Football
Hall of Fame. So we never forget the past, we celebrate the present, and in the future every Polynesian athlete has a platform to look back and understand their great heritage.”
The day was filled with humor and laughs until the inductees’ acceptance speeches. There were still a few jokes to go around, but the speeches were filled with emotion and grati- tude as the inductees gave thanks to their family and coaches for supporting them.
“My brother had the vision that Polyne- sians could come to dominate the sport of foot- ball,” said Frank Manumaleuna who accepted the induction on behalf of John. “John had a message. The message was ‘families.’ The mes- sage was ‘making good decisions.’ He helped kids with his voice.”
All the inductees gave homage to their Polynesian culture and traditions. The players came primarily from Samoan backgrounds but Ellison became the first inductee in the PFHOF
to hail from Maori and New Zealand descent. “Polynesian people have so much love and you don’t see that in most places in the world,”
Ellison said. “I think we can take that love and share it with others.”
While all the other inductees grew up in traditional Polynesian households, Ellison grew up in the United States after he and his mother left New Zealand to find a new life. He ended up in Arizona. He said while his family line included many great rugby players, he found his way onto the football field.
“Belonging to a tribe, belonging to a fam- ily is something all of Polynesia can relate to,” said Ellison. “All I wanted growing up was to belong to a tribe. I want to give humble thanks to all the tribes I became a part of; to replicate what you all have here; to be complete.”
While the audience was very supportive of all the inductees, they couldn’t help giving a little hometown love to their village sons in- cluding Ah You, Naeole, and the Manumaleuna Family.
Naeole told the story of having to run to the shrimp farms from Kahuku and in the sand dunes as part of his youth football training. “My coach probably would have been arrested for that stuff today,” laughed Naeole. “The Kahuku/ Laie/Hauula community here makes you tough.”
Many of the members of the community came to see Ah You, the man who many claim to be the one who paved the way for all the great football players who have been recruited from Kahuku High School over the years.
“What a beautiful community to live in,” said Ah You. “It’s like one happy family.”
ESPN personality and SportsCenter sportscaster Neil Everett, who hosted the acceptance speech ceremony, said it was his first time visiting the PCC. He thanked the PCC for hosting the event and said the venue was “a beautiful setting for this celebration.” He also added, “History speaks for itself the impact Polynesians have had on football.”
The event also celebrated Polynesian players who are currently making an impact of the game. While Polynesians have been primar- ily known as defensive stalwarts and forces of nature on the offensive and defensive line, it is players in this generation such as All-American quarterback Liufau and Tennessee Titan quar- terback Mariota who are redefining what it means to be a Polynesian football player.
“It’s a tough man’s game we play and I hope I paved the way for more Polynesians to come play the game like those being honored here today did for me,” said Liufau.
Each of the inductees received several gifts as part of their induction along with their picture and enshrinement in the actual hall of fame. They each received a hall of fame class ring, a jacket and a $2,500 donation to their alma mater’s scholarship fund. Additionally, $25,000 will be donated to aide Polynesian students living in Hawaii.
The weekend also included a banquet for the families the night before the hall of fame ceremony and a Polynesian All-American high school football game on Jan. 28 at Aloha Stadium.