Tale of two schools: Kealakehe varsity football plays Konawaena in 1999, beginning the rivalry

  • Kealakehe's Jarom Ha'o (41) and David Daniel (80) try to catch Konawaena's Steven Mahelona (1), who returned a punt for a touchdown during the first half of a game on Sept. 10, 1999. The Konawaena Wildcats defeated the Kealakehe Waveriders 55-7. It was the first time the two teams met. (Baron Sekiya/West Hawaii Today File Photo)

Editor’s note: While the sports world is shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, West Hawaii Today will look back every Tuesday at memorable sports moments on the Big Island.

It was the first “Kona showdown.” The first time the Kealakehe Waveriders and Konawaena Wildcats varsity football teams met on the field to determine who was the top Kona team.


And it was only fitting that a Konawaena alumnus and longtime coach in West Hawaii football led the Waveriders into their first rivalry game.

Joe Nahale, who played for Konawaena in the 1970s and was the Wildcats’ junior varsity coach for five years before moving north to Kealakehe, was the head coach for the Waveriders in their 55-7 loss to the Wildcats on Sept. 10, 1999, at Old Kona Airport Field.

The rout didn’t stop Nahale’s optimism for a program that would later find success once it had found its footing, including winning five straight BIIF Division I football titles from 2004-2008, and three more BIIF titles from 2010-2012.

“Kealakehe varsity football head coach Joe Nahale played for Konawaena in the early 1970s, but he never thought he would see the day when Kona would be cut in half by two schools,” West Hawaii Today’s Keith Kosaki and Gretel C. Kovatch wrote in a Sept. 12, 1999 article.

“So he must have found it especially strange to be leading one of those schools against his alma mater Friday when the Waveriders took on the Big Island Interscholastic Federation champion Wildcats at the Old Kona Airport Field.

“‘We’re very young. This is really a learning experience for them being on the first year varsity. They’ll do fine,’ Nahale said.”

It was Konawaena’s Steven Mahelona that the Waveriders were unprepared for. Mahelona scored all three of the Wildcats’ touchdowns in the first quarter.

“Steven Mahelona opened up the first quarter with a 54-touchdown run, went on to catch a 60-yard TD pass from Kaimana Lee, and finished with another TD catch, this time 20 yards from Lee. All three kicks by Kala Freitas were successful, and the ‘Cats ended the quarter 21-0.”

Kealakehe’s seven points that game came in the fourth quarter from outside linebacker Toa Fakatoumafi, who intercepted the ball and ran it back 60 yards for a touchdown, with a successful kick from the Waveriders’ Jake Bancil for the extra point.

The Waveriders would find their revenge the next year, however.

On Oct. 6, 2000, Nahale’s Waveriders would defeat Konawaena 13-7 on the Wildcats’ home turf. The Wildcats had once again been BIIF football champions for the 1999 season.

“After resembling a junior varsity team in 1999’s inaugural varsity meeting between the two West Hawaii rivals, the Waveriders relied on what they lacked last year, a senior class, to serve notice to Konawaena, the traditionally, dominant football power in West Hawaii — not to mention the Big Island,” West Hawaii Today’s Brian Perdue wrote in an Oct. 8, 2000 article.

“‘This feels great, to finally beat them,’ said Kealakehe linebacker Hailama Anakalea after the game.”


The 2000 season was Nahale’s last year coaching the Waveriders, but his legacy continues at Kealakehe. His son, Wyatt, is now the current Kealakehe head coach. Like his father, Wyatt Nahale also coached Konawaena’s junior varsity team before making the switch to the Waveriders for the 2019 season.

And so the rivalry between the two Kona schools continues, 20 years later.

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