Molokai awarded grant from Riddell

The Molokai football team poses after watching a video of Peyton Manning congratulating them on being one of 18 programs to receive an equipment grant from Riddell’s “18 in 18” Smarter Footall program. • Nichol Helm Kahale photo

When one road trip routinely costs more than $5,000 — and new helmets push $300 apiece — this week delivered good news for the Molokai High School eight-player football team.

The Farmers sat down as a group before practice on Thursday and watched a video message from Peyton Manning informing them that they were one of 18 programs in the nation to receive an equipment grant from Riddell’s “18 in 18” Smarter Football program.

“I subscribe to a bunch of football-related websites and things and I’ve applied to USA Football grants in the past,” Molokai coach Mike Kahale said. “This one just came through.”

Molokai was singled out for its “hawk tackling” technique that encourages players to initiate contact with their shoulders instead of using their heads. The team also spends time analyzing film to break down and improve players’ tackling techniques.

The Farmers decided to spend their $10,000 grant — the maximum amount awarded — on 25 helmets, 25 sets of shoulder pads (about $100 each), and three tackling wheels (about $300 apiece) and some chinstraps.

“Every year I try and we were really fortunate that we were recipients of it,” Kahale said Wednesday. “I found out a couple weeks ago and they just asked me to keep it on the down low until they made it official. It was kind of cool when I opened my email and found a link to that video (from Manning).”

Manning said in a press release, “I am proud to help Riddell shine a light on these outstanding football programs. … I hope we continue to see more teams follow the lead of this incredible collection of coaches, players, administrators and parents.”

Molokai athletic director Lee DeRouin said this kind of grant is immeasurable for a program like Molokai.

“First of all, it’s a tribute to Mike and his Molokai football ohana,” DeRouin said. “They started their grassroots campaign years back. They got football here at Molokai High School and they haven’t stopped.”

Kahale shared the news with his players before practice on Wednesday and showed the Manning video on Thursday. Many of them had already heard the news.

“They had kind of known already — from their parents and it being shared on social media,” Kahale said. “It was, like, ‘Oh, wow coach, Peyton Manning talking about Molokai football.’ That was kind of cool.”

Kahale chose his list of items from the grant after browsing through a catalog sent by Riddell. After searching unsuccessfully to find his grant application, he called Riddell to ask how much the Farmers had been awarded.

“Coach, you got the $10,000 (maximum) award,” he said. “It was, like. ‘yeah.’ So that was cool.”

He put his order in Wednesday: “25 helmets, 25 shoulder pads, three tackling wheels, and some chin straps and that’s 10 grand right there. That’s super huge for us because every year all of our money goes to travel. If we had to pay only for buses every year, we’d have the best uniforms in the state.”

The $20,000-plus travel budget put together annually is compiled by the state travel budget for the school and largely subsidized by the team’s booster club.

“Now we’re not scrambling,” Kahale said. “We don’t have to fit kids into medium helmet when they’re a large and those kinds of things. It’s safer for our kids — it’s high-end stuff.”

The Farmers have a roster of 51 players this season. The state travel money covers 25 — 22 athletes and three coaches.

“I don’t want to leave half our guys back every time we go away,” Kahale said. “So, we fundraise and if everybody does what they need to do: A to Z on the grades classroom, make the practices, do the fundraising, we try to get them to go.”

The three-time defending Maui Interscholastic League champion Farmers are set to play Seabury Hall, which won the first three league crowns at the eight-player level, on Saturday at 9 a.m. at War Memorial Stadium.

* Robert Collias is at