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Alejado a driving force behind Lanai football

Coach Speak

Sid Alejado talks with son Devrene Kahananui-Alejado, a co-MIL Player of the Year in 2018. Alejado, who took over as head coach of the Lanai High School eight-player football team last year, has helped grow the sport on the island, from Pop Warner to preps. CHRISTIAN YUMOL photo

The Lanai High School eight-player football program has grown into a family affair while being embraced by the tiny island community, and Sid Alejado has been there every step of the way.

The Pine Lads have seen Pop Warner and flag football contribute to the high school program that officially began as part of the Maui Interscholastic League in 2012. Alejado took over for Stephen “Fergie” Ferguson as head coach of the high school team in 2019.

“I think it’s very important, it brings our kids together as a team, as a family,” said Alejado, who has coached two sons and two nephews in the Lanai High program. “Such a small island, we’re kind of limited to what we can do here and having that program, you know, we’ve brought kids out of playing video games in their house all day and the community coming out.

“We did some flag football programs with the younger kids and the older kids and having that going was great because we had family members all watching the games. You know, we had crowds at the park.”

The team had to order new uniforms in 2018 when 38 players turned out for a program that had just 35 uniforms — last season, the roster numbered 44 players, nearly a third of the high school student ranks for Lanai High and Elementary School.

The 2018 team shared the MIL crown with Molokai, marking Lanai’s first prep football title of any kind.

“It just grew a lot,” Alejado said. “I will be honest with you, the flag football program was a big hit and I think that’s what stimulated the high school program to get pretty popular. We have a lot of people involved in that, who created the flag football program and it’s been a big success for us.”

The flag football program has allowed all the kids on the island a chance to try the game. The flag program has been in place for six years and is coordinated by Natalie Ropa, who Alejado gave vast credit to for developing the feeder program to the high school team.

“It’s just good, there’s no weight limit, there’s no tackling, there’s no hitting and you teach the kids the fundamentals of football,” Alejado said. “You’d be surprised — parents that didn’t think their kids were interested in any kind of sports, they come out and they fall in love with it. It’s a good thing to see and that’s kind of why I coach football and I coach the youth, is just to see them go from not knowing anything to improving, and that’s important to me.”

Alejado’s oldest son Derec Kahananui is now an assistant coach in the program. Alejado’s youngest son, Devrene Kahananui-Alejado, a co-MIL Player of the Year in 2018, recently started fall camp at Briar Cliff University in Sioux City, Iowa. Last season, four former Pine Lads played college football.

Alejado moved to Lanai 20 years ago and now runs a chicken ranch.

“When I moved here in ’01 you would never see kids throwing the football, everybody was at the basketball court,” he said. “Back when football came around, now you go to just about every park and you see people throwing the football. It’s fun, it’s a sport that brings you together — can’t do it by yourself.”

Lanai athletic director Roderick Sumagit knows what the football program means to the island.

“Football has grown over a number of years, the number of players has increased,” Sumagit said. “… I think football has been a long time coming for the community and now the community is involved, everybody believes that the program is sustainable here on the island.”

Alejado and Ferguson worked hand in hand to develop the program for more than a decade.

“Sid and Fergie started the program at the Pop Warner level,” Sumagit said. “Sid has taken over now, but he has been a big part of the program since Pop Warner days, probably at least 10 years. Sid has been doing a great job in coaching and hopefully he stays on a little more since he has already coached his two sons and a couple nephews.”

The eight-player football season this academic year is in doubt due to the coronavirus pandemic and with the current decree from the Hawaii High School Athletic Association that no contact is allowed between student-athletes and coaches until at least Sept. 14.

“At this time, the safety of our kids is our No. 1 priority, so sports are taking a backseat,” Sumagit said. “As you know, the island has been COVID-free. As parents and students are aware, traveling has been a big issue for us, so going off island and coming back … again, the safety of our students has to stay our No. 1 priority.”

Naighel Calderon, The Maui News 2018-19 MIL Boy Athlete of the Year, is now on the University of Hawaii baseball team. The three-sport star for the Pine Lads knows how much the football program has grown with the island.

“I miss it a lot,” Calderon said of the football program. “Honestly, when you’re from Lanai you kind of build different characteristics just because we don’t have 250-pound kids that want to come out and play, so we kind of take a step back a little bit and analyze each individual.

“And our coaches do a great job of building these kids up to whatever role they need to play as a team so we can win. … Coach Sid, he was one of the main guys since I was a little kid.”

Jesse Sigrah is a 5-foot-3, 150-pound senior running back on the team and is hopeful that a season can be played before he graduates.

“I have played football since third grade,” Sigrah said. “It’s truly been a blessing for me, it’s not an opportunity a lot of people get, the ability to play, but Coach Sid (and company), they are always supporting us. It’s an adventure, for sure.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com

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