Every season, Cleveland High School girls basketball coach Poeko Waiwaiole reaches into his a Hawaiian heritage for a value for his team to focus on, and try to embody.
For the 2022-2023 season, that phrase has been “Ho’omau”, which represents “perseverance and persistence”.
That’s certainly been the case so far this season, as his Warriors (9-6, 5-1 PIL) have faced one of the toughest schedules possible, with plenty of 6A’s best teams on the slate.
Not only that, but Waiwaiole, and his two daughters on the team, Kamakila and Malia, have also tried to persevere for their family and roots back home in Hawai’i, in the face of gentrification and rising costs that are pushing native Hawaiians out of their homes.
Before Cleveland’s game at Lincoln on January 13th, Malia wore a black shirt with white lettering on the back that read, “The Natives are restless”. Malia said her family picked that shirt up for her on their outing back to Hawai’i last summer, and it’s a simple message she’s happy to spread anyway she can. “Especially with the pandemic and all the tourism, it’s just been really hard and bad over there,” Malia said. “Even if wearing a shirt to warm up for my game can bring a little awareness to it, that’s what I’m going to do.”
The Waiwaiole family has felt the impact of the economic changes in Hawai’i too. Poeko described how the family moved back there before Malia and Kamakila were born; but it became too expensive, and the family needed to come back to Oregon.
Of course, having triplets after three older children, made for a few more expenses, too. Malia and Kamakila also have a triplet brother Pokii who plays football for Cleveland.
A migration from Hawai’i isn’t new to the Waiwaiole family, though – as Poeko described how his grandfather, a full-blooded Hawaiian, moved to New York, and eventually passed away and is now buried in Long Island. “There are more native Hawaiians living outside of Hawai’i than live in it, because of economics,” Poeko remarked. “Lots of Hawaiians have been to lots of places, so you never know how well that’s going to translate to the next generation.”
While the entire family hasn’t had a chance to live where their roots are, the Waiwaioles are nonetheless happy to call Oregon home, and Poeko is proud to see the lessons from the generations of his family still surviving. “I’ve tried to pass on some of the same things the older generation passed on to me. Plus, we keep naming everybody Hawaiian names, so they can’t really escape it very easily!”
Poeko has had some bonus time to do that with his four daughters, coaching all of them, at some point, in the game. Currently the family’s second oldest daughter Kaiea is playing basketball at Eastern Oregon University. Getting the different waves of daughters to come through the game has been a memory that Poeko said has been unique each time, and something he knows the family will cherish for years to come.
“They’ve all presented different challenges and different joys,” Poeko reflected. “I think all of them have also had different experiences, because they’re different people too with me … I think we’ll look back on it, and enjoy this more than we necessarily do every second of the actual trip. We’ll get to the end of this, and we’ll look back for a long time, and it’ll be kind of special we all got a chance to do this together.”
Meantime, Poeko’s Warriors team has put that “Ho’omau” lesson to good use, as they were 5-1 in Portland Interscholastic League play as this was written, and they continue to show they are one of the best squads in the city. Leading that charge have been the Waiwaiole sisters, as well as fellow junior Addy Huss, and the team’s four seniors.
There are sure to be a few more challenges ahead of the Warriors. They’ll play Benson one more time, and have two matchups against Jefferson, with the Democrats sitting in a tie for second with Cleveland as of when this story was prepared.
The lessons learned away from the game, though, won’t be lost on the Waiwaiole family. And the team kept its “Ho’omau” moving toward reaching that goal of making the Chiles Center in March.