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Maui native Williams makes history with national crown

Oscar Williams celebrates after defeating Toby Schoffstall of Evington, Va., 6-4 in the 170-pound Greco-Roman 16-under final at the USA Wrestling nationals in Fargo, N.D., on Thursday. JIM THRALL photo

Oscar Williams’ journey to becoming the first Maui male to win a national title at the USA Wrestling nationals in Fargo, N.D., was a long, winding road.

In every aspect.

The 16-year-old Williams, who left Maui as a 12-year-old due to his family’s wish to go to the Mainland to develop their children’s wrestling prowess, won the 170-pound Greco-Roman 16-under title in Fargo on Thursday.

He won the final 6-4 over Toby Schoffstall of Evington, Va.

“It was something I dreamed of since I was a little kid, it always had been a big goal of mine,” Williams said via phone on Saturday. “It just started to feel real once I beat the guy in the quarters, the No. 1 seed. I realized that was going to be one of my toughest opponents and if I could beat him I knew I was going to win the national title.”

Parents Nathan and Liza Williams decided to move to the Mainland after Oscar finished the sixth grade at Lahaina Intermediate School. Nathan was a substitute teacher and Liza was the front-office manager at the Maui Marriott when they decided to move four years ago.

The Williams family traversed the nation in a motorhome, spending large chunks of time in Poway, Calif., and Luther, Okla., with Oscar and his four younger sisters in tow. Bella Williams, 12, is already a two-time national champ.

What was supposed to last a year has turned into the Williams family plan. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the family of former Baldwin state champion Kodi Shepley let the Williams family live for over a year in a ranch house that wasn’t being used in Luther, Okla.

“It definitely feels good that just everything is working out, it wasn’t all for nothing,” Oscar Williams said.

The entire odyssey makes Kim Ball shake his head. He coached Nathan Williams at Lahainaluna High School after working with his mother soon after the Williamses moved to Maui when Nathan was a child. Ball is amazed that a Maui male is now a Fargo national champion — Jahnea Miguel and Waipuilani Estrella-Beauchamp are females from Maui who have won titles in Fargo.

“I can’t even tell you how unbelievably huge that is,” Ball said of Oscar Williams’ crown. “For a kid that basically grew up in the Maui Style Wrestling Program, Lahaina Roughnecks, and then to go on and accomplish that kind of national title — that’s the biggest age-group tournament in the nation.

“I mean, basically, even if you become an All-American, it’s huge. To be a national champion, it’s unbelievable.”

Local wrestling officials credit Oscar’s father Nathan as the driving force in getting the sport introduced into intermediate schools here.

“There was definitely a kind of connect-the-dots story,” Nathan Williams said. “I was coaching at Lahainaluna for years and we took second (in state) in 2005 — it came down to just a half-point. … It was heartbreaking, the whole thing. Baldwin was knocking on the door that year, too.”

That result at the state high school meet made Nathan Williams think about a stronger development program here.

Lucas Misaki, a Molokai High School graduate who had moved on to become a successful coach on Oahu, told Nathan Williams of how the Misaki-coached Kamehameha Kapalama team had finally beaten Punahou at the middle school level.

“He wrote a long letter on this wrestling website that I read one night and it said that ‘All these years we thought it was about the money that the (Interscholastic League of Honolulu) has and it’s not. I’m from Molokai, I coached at (Oahu Interscholastic Association) public schools and now I’m at a private school, and I’m saying that all the effort we did for years to finally beat Punahou’s middle school team with our Kamehameha middle school team, that’s the difference,’ “ Nathan Williams said. “He said, ‘That’s what the other schools need to be doing now.’ … I contacted him and said, ‘How do you do this? Give me all the information.’ “

Nathan Williams spent a year gathering information and battling the red tape that was everywhere in the middle school hierarchy, but he persevered.

“It was a total nightmare, even with doing the best I could with permission, I got a lot of bumps and bruises doing it — it was tough,” Nathan Williams said. “But we really forced it in there and we created a kind of make-believe intermediate league and we shamelessly copied what the ILH did. We even took our clubs to the ILH meets and we busted them up.”

The Maui intermediate school league complimented what the long-established Maui Style youth wrestling program did after being started by Ball more than 20 years ago. Trips to Oahu and the Mainland ensued.

“Once we did that, I realized ‘Holy crap, this is what we should have been doing all along,’ “ Nathan Williams said. “It was just so amazing, we wanted even more after that.”

It was anything but easy for Oscar Williams to leave his Lahaina Roughnecks teammates and coach Conrad Bolor behind, and perhaps more importantly, the dream of following in his father’s wrestling footsteps at Lahainaluna.

Oscar Williams is now a rising sophomore at wrestling powerhouse Edmond North (Okla.) High School.

“These sacrifices that we’ve made are paying off,” Oscar Williams said. “I mean, I’d love to just live in Hawaii and just go to the beach every day, but if I want to be a national champ I just have to train hard and face tough competition.

“It was really tough because I had a lot of friends and grew up in Hawaii, but it wasn’t crazy difficult because I had always came out to the Mainland for the summer, every year, almost the whole summer just for wrestling. Every vacation we would go on to see family I would pack my wrestling shoes so I could get in some practices with some local clubs.”

The family has now settled in Edmond, much to the delight of Oscar who was one of nine freshmen to qualify for the Oklahoma state tournament from Edmond North in 2021.

“We have a very good group of guys, great partners there,” Oscar said. “We broke an Oklahoma state record of nine freshmen to qualify for state and I was one of them. It was a pretty big story. We fell a little bit short at state, but we’re definitely coming back. We have a couple really good freshmen that are coming and one really good senior who beats up on me every day.”

Oscar Williams credits the foundation he set on Maui with helping get to the point where he is now.

“Well, I’ve been wrestling since I was 4 years old,” Oscar Williams said. “Growing up my dad would always bump me up like two brackets, two age divisions, just because I was a big kid back then, just giving up age and weight.

“When I was in elementary school I’d go to the middle school and train with the middle school program my dad started. I would wrestle just these tough guys that ended up being really good wrestlers in high school.”

The list of the older Lahainaluna wrestling partners who helped shape him roll off his tongue.

“I wrestled with Kahili Joy, I wrestled with Kanoa Lanoza, Jesse Dudoit, Kawehi Gillcoat,” Oscar Williams said. “I was just really little and they’d beat up on me all the time. I was just this cocky little kid who definitely needed to be humbled by them all the time, so it really just helped me become a better wrestler in general.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

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