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A Look Back When Hawaii Said No To Football


A Look Back When Hawaii Said No To Football, many decades ago. Can you imagine what Hawaii would be like today without football? I really can’t, it’s like living on the islands without surfers and surf boards, its part of what Hawaii is all about. The islands do provide a laid-back environment, but every once in a while you need something that gets your blood pumping and football does it for me.

A Look Back When Hawaii Said No To Football

College football has a grand tradition in the Hawaiian Islands and certainly is the biggest sport in the state. But some 50 years ago, the University of Hawaii college football team ceased to exist.

Yes, during WW II, there was no football played between ’42 and ’45 but that was due to wartime and not any decisions to stop playing.

The Rainbows were an independent school with no affiliation to any other conference. They were considered Division 2, which was at the time the next level under Division 1. The Rainbows played in venerable Honolulu Stadium (source – Star-Bulletin) but when traveling, they entertained quite a variety of schools as they would journey almost anywhere to play … and sometimes wouldn’t come back to the islands for a month.

Four-game road trips

For instance in ’60, they played at California State University, Los Angeles and beat the Diablos 20-7, then traveled the next week to Salt Lake City to play Utah and were beaten by the Utes, 33-6. From Utah they traveled back to California and played Fresno State losing to the Bulldogs 17-7. Finally, they played the fourth game in-a-row on the mainland against University of the Pacific and lost 28-21 to the Tigers before heading back to Hawaii.

The coach was Hank Vasconcellos (from Paia – great windsurfing spot) who was at the helm of the Rainbows for nine seasons with a pedestrian 43-46-3 record during that time. Their 1960 team would end up with a less than quality 3-7 record. The Rainbows last winning record was in ’56 when they went 7-3.

No fans or funding

Then it happened. The school was low on finances and with the cost of travel coupled with a losing team that didn’t generate much enthusiasm, the university decided in January, after a very long meeting, to eliminate the football team. Vasconcellos was furious as were many others, but it was in vain. So in 1961, there was no joy in Honolulu.

Even high school football had become more popular than college ball. It was a terrible blow to a program that just six years prior had upset Nebraska in Lincoln 6-0.

A Look Back When Hawaii Said No To Football

But finally, at the urging of new Athletic Director Young Suk Ko, the school brought football back the following year in 1962. Jim Asato, who used to play for the Rainbows, became their new head coach with an abbreviated schedule. They went 2-2 that season with only two road games, which were back-to-back in Southern California against U.S. International and Cal. St. L.A. The rest of their games were against clubs.

College football had been club level play even though the Rainbows did play several colleges every year; plus, a boost in their schedule with major schools eventually helped them reach Division 1 and stay there several years later. The great Clark Shaughnessy came out of retirement to coach one year (1965) and some give him credit for bringing prestige to the program even though they had a 1-8-1 record.

On a side note: Vasconcellos was the creator of the extra-game exemption, whereby a football team that plays at Hawaii can play an extra game or as it stands now, a 13th contest on their schedule.

A real team

Hawaii became a fully collegiate football school in ’66 (meaning they quit playing clubs and semi-pro). The football squad would flounder for a little while longer before gaining traction with Dave Holmes as head coach from ’68 to ’73 – never having a losing season.

Eventually, the school stepped up and started offering scholarships, then added a gem of a new football field in Aloha Stadium plus the coaching also improved – joining the Western Athletic Conference seemed to put the program over the top.

But for one dark quiet year in the Hawaii football ledger, there were no college football games in Hawaii.

A Look Back When Hawaii Said No To Football, but in the end they made the right decision…

~~Aloha Nui Loa



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