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Warriors’ Kang finds freedom on field, mat

Kamehameha senior doesn’t let autism stop him from being ‘a star’

Kamehameha Schools Maui senior Kamahao Kang was diagnosed with high-functioning autism (HFA) during the summer prior to his freshman year, but he isn’t letting that stop him from being a standout student-athlete for the Warriors. The Maui News / ROBERT COLLIAS photos

PUKALANI — Kamahao Kang has carried the football twice this season for 13 yards for the Kamehameha Schools Maui team. The mop-up duty at running back came in the waning minutes of a 39-0 win over Molokai.

Last week in a 34-18 Warriors win over King Kekaulike, Kang entered the game as a defensive back. He is a regular on the kickoff team.

“He’s always been one of us,” standout defensive lineman and team captain Michael Kalalau said of Kang, a 5-foot-8, 155-pound senior.

Kang is a unique high school football player — he was diagnosed with high-functioning autism (HFA) during the summer prior to his freshman year at Kamehameha Maui.

That hasn’t stopped him from being a standout member of the wrestling team, a Maui Interscholastic League silver medalist in judo as a sophomore and a four-year player in the KSM football program.

Kamahao Kang runs a drill alongside Warriors teammates Alema Ebana (23) and Teancum Aiwohi (50) on Wednesday.

“It’s a really cool environment to be in,” Kang said. “For me this sport has really taught me a lot, especially how to control my condition and use it in a way that can help benefit the team.”

Jiu-jitsu is Kang’s favorite sport “because there’s so much things that you can do in that sport and not only is it just a sport, it’s like real life, too. Self defense.”

He took to combative sports from the beginning as a youngster, tearing up the mats as a youth in the Maui Style Wrestling program.

His father Brandon Kang tells a story of his son’s first wrestling practice, when Kang’s parents sat in the car and expected their 5-year-old son to return to the car within 15 minutes of the start of practice. Instead, the coach came out at the end of practice and asked how long their son had been a wrestler.

“You want to be the best as you can be, so it’s always fun to challenge yourself,” Kamahao Kang said. “Push yourself through obstacles that you didn’t think you would be able to do, but when you overcome those obstacles it’s just like that awesome feeling. Like, ‘Wow, you did it.’ “

Kang doesn’t consider himself exceptional, even though there are barriers he’s conquered that many with his circumstances do not.

“It’s just getting used to my condition, but it’s also fun because I still get to do the sports that I like to do without having other people questioning me about my condition,” Kang said. “There’s just so much freedom.”

After having ups and downs in school through seventh grade, Kang was accepted into Kamehameha Maui as an eighth-grader. His HFA diagnosis came after he spent a year at the school, but the KSM community has fully embraced him, from teachers to classmates to coaches.

“Academic-wise, they are very supportive to me, especially with my condition,” Kang said. “They’re just giving so much help, it’s just a blessing to come to this school and this school has a lot of opportunities and they’re willing to help you get to where you want to be in life. I’m more than just grateful.

“There’s always someone out there who’s, like, ‘Hey, I got your back.’ That’s what I took from being at this school.”

Kalalau just found out Wednesday that his teammate has HFA.

“I actually didn’t really know that,” Kalalau said. “He’s a part of the team, he’s always working hard. He’s always there, every day at practice. … He’s just a hard-working kid.”

Kamehameha Maui head coach Ulima Afoa is also the school’s academic-athletic counselor.

“It took me a while, I never knew that he was high-functioning autistic,” Afoa said. “In fact, I always knew about autism, but I didn’t realize the different levels of autism. It’s never been a problem. He knows what he’s got to do. He has to do a few more reps, but that could be said for any player. … That’s what makes him so special, whatever challenges he has he just plays through them and works over them. There’s nothing better than someone who has challenges who feels he’s just like a normal Joe.”

Kang is ready to contribute any way possible to a team he believes in.

“We can be the best in this league, we just have to keep working harder, just keep on pushing,” Kang said. “Don’t give up when times are down.”

Kang spent Tuesday on Lanai for his senior project. His long-term goal is to be a pilot.

“I was doing my senior project on like how drones can be used for first responders such as firefighters, police, ambulance,” Kang said. “So for example, I went to Lanai and they have the fire evacuation at the airport. They took a group of kids from Lanai High School on the bus, along with me. The bus acted like the plane had gotten into a crash.

“I got to be the victim and I got to videotape what the firefighters were doing. It was really interesting, just seeing all the guys go out there and seeing what they were doing, tagging people — who was injured, who was not injured. Then, in the end, they wanted to implement drones where they can’t really see from the ground level. So, they can see if there’s other bodies around the area, rather than spend thousands of dollars on the helicopter.”

The bottom line for Kang is simple: He is proud to be a trailblazer.

“Just don’t give up on what you want to do, it’s always possible if you just work towards it,” he said. “Just go out there and just show them that, ‘Hey, I’m not just some disabled kid.’ You’re like everyone else. You want to be a player — just be a star.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

MIL Football

STANDINGS

DIVISION I

W L Pct PF PA

x-Baldwin 2 1 .667 69 57

Maui High 0 3 .000 20 78

DIVISION II

W L Pct PF PA

x-Lahainaluna 3 0 1.000 114 21

KS Maui 2 2 .500 88 87

King Kekaulike 1 2 .333 44 92

x-clinched first-round championship

Friday, Sept. 13

Baldwin 33, Maui High 0

Saturday, Sept. 14

Kamehameha Maui 34, King Kekaulike 18

Friday’s Game

Baldwin vs. King Kekaulike at War Memorial Stadium, 7 p.m.

Saturday’s Game

Maui High vs. Lahainaluna at War Memorial Stadium, 7 p.m.

TEAM STATISTICS

Offense

Rush Pass Total Avg.

Lahainaluna 657 467 1,124 374.7

KS Maui 407 696 1,103 275.8

Baldwin 418 380 798 266.0

King Kekaulike 260 356 616 205.3

Maui High 192 422 614 204.7

Defense

Rush Pass Total Avg.

Lahainaluna 223 155 378 126.0

Baldwin 299 444 743 247.7

KS Maui 401 671 1,072 268.0

Maui High 533 467 1,000 333.3

King Kekaulike 478 584 1,062 354.0

INDIVIDUAL LEADERS

Rushing

Att. Yds. Avg. TD

Joshua Tihada, LL 64 402 6.3 5

Teva Pimental, KSM 53 324 6.1 0

Isaiah Souza, Bal 32 270 8.4 2

Trey Hunter, KK 29 182 6.3 1

Tiliti Adams, KSM 32 99 3.1 4

Derek Perez, LL 13 77 5.9 2

L. Asuega-Stark, Bal 21 75 3.6 0

Kali Kuhaulua, KK 21 64 3.0 1

Ezra Laga, Bal 10 54 5.4 1

Naia Nakamoto, MH 13 51 3.9 0

Rusty Abalos, MH 10 50 5.0 0

Brex Delray, MH 36 49 1.4 3

Passing

Com. Att. Yds. TD Int.

Esekielu Storer, LL 32 55 467 5 1

Brex Delray, MH 39 75 422 0 4

Tiliti Adams, KSM 22 52 418 4 1

L. Asuega-Stark, Bal 35 67 380 3 5

F. Melgar Martich, KK 17 46 260 3 3

Alec Tolentino, KSM 20 50 251 3 3

Receiving

No. Yds. Avg. TD

Ezekiel Weber, KSM 12 139 11.6 2

Kaeo Miguel, MH 11 142 12.9 0

C.J. Hamasaki, KSM 9 152 17.7 1

Kai Bookland, LL 9 141 15.7 2

Kapena Kamai, Bal 9 114 12.7 0

Trey Hunter, KK 8 177 22.1 4

Isaiah Richards, Bal 8 69 8.6 0

Kainalu Pahia, KK 8 69 8.6 0

M. Smith-Kemfort, KSM 7 202 28.9 3

Brian Sandoval, LL 7 74 10.6 0

Danelle Daniels, Bal 6 96 16.0 1

Devon Sa-Chisolm, LL 6 84 14.0 0

Kennison Tuugaifo, MH 6 33 5.5 0

Scoring

TD FG 2P XP Pts.

Joshua Tihada, LL 5 0 1 0 32

Tiliti Adams, KSM 5 0 0 0 30

Trey Hunter, KK 5 0 0 0 30

Tre Rickard, LL 4 0 0 0 24

Isaiah Souza, Bal 2 1 0 5 20

M. Smith-Kemfort, KSM 3 0 0 0 18

Brex Delray, MH 3 0 0 0 18

Ezekiel Weber, KSM 2 0 0 0 12

Derek Perez, LL 2 0 0 0 12

Kai Bookland, LL 2 0 0 0 12

Kai Casco, LL 0 0 0 10 10