PUKALANI - King Kekaulike High School had a few athletic breakthroughs this year: The boys volleyball team won its first Maui Interscholastic League title, the boys basketball team went to the state tournament for the first time and the boys track and field team finished a school-best second in the state.
None of those teams, however, enjoyed success like the Maui Warriors, a softball team that included recent King Kekaulike graduate Matt Pulliam.
Pulliam played shortstop and batted 7-for-11 in the cleanup spot with a pair of triples and a home run in three games as the Warriors won the Summer Games Special Olympics Hawaii coach-pitch A division gold medal May 25-27 at the University of Hawaii Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium.
The Maui Warriors celebrate after defeating the Oahu Rainbows 14-13 to claim the Summer Games Special Olympics Hawaii coach-pitch A division softball gold medal on May 27 at the University of Hawaii Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium.
Jason Abbey photo
The Warriors rallied from a four-run deficit in the bottom of the final inning to beat the Oahu Rainbows 14-13 in the gold-medal game.
"It was very exciting," Pulliam said in a recent interview at his home. "I mean, I thought we were going to lose, but we focused on the game. I told my team before the game, 'Instead of talking to each other we have to focus on the game.' That helped our team to win, and a lot of hard work, too. I was very worried that last inning."
The Warriors have players from ages 9 to 53, and they can all count Pulliam as a friend.
"It was unbelievable, it was incredible," Pulliam said. "We put a lot of hard work into our team. We worked so hard. We had 'Maui Warriors' on our chests. It was like a family to us, there are so much sponsors out there helping us. Since I was 8, they have been my friends."
Pulliam started a double play to end the top of the fifth inning in the title game, and made a nice play from deep short to end the top of the sixth and final inning. He had hit a solo homer in the fourth.
Pulliam has now won three state softball golds, but said that "this one is more special to me (because) all of our people, we worked together so well."
This was also the first gold for Pulliam since his mother, Karen, died two years ago. Pulliam's father, Bill, is the team's third-base coach.
"My dad is just unbelievable, he just supports me so much," Matt Pulliam said. "My final game, pretty much the whole game, was for my mom. That is why I was so happy that we won because I was representing it for my mother because I miss her. She does so much for me, still. This one is for her."
Coaches Neal Labang and Dewaine Higa did the pitching for the Warriors, who had been practicing two times per week since February.
"The coaches tell us we have to work on our fielding, focus on the game, focus on the ball. Don't worry about the errors, just get the ball," Pulliam said. "And, don't worry about the score. That helped us in that last inning."
Brendon Lucas knocked in Nathan Ley with the winning run in the final.
"It gets very emotional, especially when you know the challenges these kids face all the time," Bill Pulliam said. "Matthew keeps using the term 'family' and that is truly what it is because a lot of these kids grew up together. Their friendships, their socializing, a lot of it is through Special Olympics. It gives them confidence that they have never had before."
Since graduating, Matt Pulliam has a full-time job offer from Branch Out Tree Service, with whom he has been a part-timer for a year. He will not be hanging up his softball cleats, however, and also plays golf.
"My goal is I want to be a professional sports player in the future," Pulliam said. "Maybe golf, maybe baseball."
For more information on Special Olympics Maui, contact Adrienne Laurion at 281-7318 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com