CHUUKESE STUDENT LEAPS INTO GUAM SPORTS

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By Alex J. Rhowunio'ng

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, March 29) - Julio Kepwe, who was born in the Federated States of Micronesia, has a huge appetite for sports. Now a multi-sport athlete at Vicente S.A. Benavente Middle School in Guam, he huddled with his Gold Roadrunners teammates during one of their A-team home games - eyes wide, hungry for action.

"Last year was my first time to learn all these sports," Kepwe said softly outside the gym before the game with a smile on his face. He frequently averted his eyes and looked toward the ground - a Chuukese gesture of humility and respect. He said his coaches and relatives helped him get where he is in sports - an active participant in four sports at his school.

Marcellus Akapito, the student athletic coordinator at the College of Micronesia-Federated States of Micronesia, Chuuk Campus, said there are a number of Federated States of Micronesia students who play interscholastic sports on Guam such as Kepwe, "but they are not as obvious as the (non-Federated States of Micronesia) students."

An eighth-grader at his school, Kepwe represents a growing number of athletes whose families moved to Guam from one of the four Federated States of Micronesia states: Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei and Yap.

Akapito, who also is the Federated States of Micronesia national track and field coach, conceded that many Chuukese kids on Guam don't feel they belong to their schools.

"There is always a lingering feeling of otherness in the Chuukese because they see themselves as 'wasona' (foreigners) to the place," said Akapito. "Therefore, they are less prone to taking the initiative to join the sports they're good at."

Like the few exceptional Federated States of Micronesia students that have gone before him and the handful that are playing interscholastic sports, Kepwe fit in with the help of his coaches, teammates and parents - especially his parents.

"I tell my kids, if you want to be in sports, you must have good grades," said Kosme Sos, Kepwe's father. "Number one: us, the parents, have to educate our kids. You have to be strong to teach your kids. Their education comes first. I tell them that, and sports are part of their education. I even worry at times because they come home at 7 p.m., and I wonder whether they're hungry. Of course, they get hungry but it's become a habit -- it's become a lifestyle," Sos said.

Akapito also said many Chuukese students on Guam don't have time for extracurricular activities for many reasons. One of them, he said, was lack of family awareness about what sports are available at the schools.

"Also, I know of many Chuukese families who don't want their kids to participate ... because they hardly make ends meet," Akapito said.

Sos, a Continental Airlines sales agent for 10 years, has worked hard to save money for the costs associated with having his kids participate in sports - even if it means he and his wife, Shining Sos, who is a translator at the Guam court system, must take part-time jobs to make ends meet.

Akapito also said that other reasons become too personal and cultural.

"Take wrestling for example. You hardly find any Chuukese in this sport. Why? For some, they do not like the outfit - too revealing. One day they will get over this -- that's the day they will see their true potential. Same thing for swimming."

And swimming is a sport that Kepwe has not yet explored.

Back in the huddle, he stared intently, unblinking, at Erwin Villa, his basketball coach -- a very different person from the polite, shy Kepwe being interviewed minutes before outside the gym. Then, as quickly as the huddle broke, the ball was airborne at tip-off, and leather finally met hardwood floor. Soon, a quick dribble, a quick pass, quick release and swoosh! The small crowd cheered, the home team's bench got to its feet.

Clad in his blue-and-gold uniform, Kepwe blends in with the rest of his teammates. As recently as two years ago, however, it was uncommon for students from the Federated States of Micronesia to be seen participating in interscholastic sports. Today, this minority group has stormed the leagues, and girls, who until recently traditionally kept to their domestic duties at home, are well represented on the fields of play.

A researcher at the University of Guam has this explanation for the emergence of Federated States of Micronesia female athletes in Guam interscholastic sports: "Federated States of Micronesia women back home play crucial roles as caretakers of children and caretakers of the land, and also as providers of food since food comes from the land," said Lola Quan-Bautista, a research associate at the University of Guam's Micronesian Area Research Center. "Many of these roles are continuing on Guam today. But there is also a growing number of young women who are 'negotiating' newer roles with their brothers, fathers, other women and with the community at large -- through higher education, wage employment and organized sports.

"I don't think that 'girls in sports' is a 'shaking loose' of traditional roles but more of taking on newer roles to fit the time and place."

Dirk Ballendorf, director of the Graduate School of Micronesian Studies at University of Guam, offered that perhaps too the change of attitudes for Federated States of Micronesia parents and students in Guam reflects the change of attitudes toward sports back home. He said now there is heavy emphasis on sports in each of the Micronesian states.

"It's important that they compete (in sports) so that they can go to the Micronesian Games and the South Pacific Games," Ballendorf said.

In addition, the Federated States of Micronesia participated in its first Olympic Games in 2000. A five-member team, of which two were women, went to Sydney, Australia. Three men and two women also made up the Federated States of Micronesia's contingent to the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece.

Frank Tangalin, president of the Guam Track and Field Association, said there are Chuukese, Kosraean, Pohnpeian and Yapese student-athletes who were born on Guam while others have been raised on Guam from a very young age. The usual cultural barriers no longer exist for this group, and they are more likely to participate in sports.

Kepwe, however, was not born on Guam. The second oldest son of the Soses was born in Panetiw, Uman, in Chuuk. He later moved to Saipan at the age of 3, and finally to Guam as a fourth-grader.

Kepwe did not play organized sports until last year when he ran cross-country for his school. Now he plays soccer and basketball, and runs cross-country and track and field as a proud Roadrunner.

From the northernmost high school on Guam to the southernmost middle schools, there are names on teams' rosters unique to the islands in the Federated States of Micronesia. Here are some examples (name, Federated States of Micronesia state, school, sport):

Enty Tack, Chuuk, Simon Sanchez High School, football, wrestling, track and field; Toby Samuel, Chuuk, Simon Sanchez, wrestling; Gino Soulik, Chuuk, Jose L.G. Rios Middle School, basketball; Lelyn Kaminaga, Chuuk, Inarajan Middle School, volleyball; Keshia Willy, Chuuk, Agueda Johnston Middle School, soccer; Januarius Magileigil, Yap, John F. Kennedy High School, wrestling; Tom Onopey, Chuuk, JFK, wrestling; Maksever Kepwe, Julio Kepwe's younger brother, Chuuk, Benavente Middle School, basketball, cross country; and Julio Kepwe's teammates on Benavente's Gold A-team -- Jayme Saperna, Pohnpei, and Clavius Fareway, Chuuk.

There are more student-athletes who fall into this category, and it is a trend that bodes well for this group's transition into the Guam community.

"Can Chuukese change the current picture (of increasing Federated States of Micronesia student-athletes' participation in interscholastic sports)?" Akapito asked. "I believe there are so many potential champs who are filtered out of the process for many reasons ... reasons that may not ... even be sports related. If more and more Chuukese find their way into the system, they will dominate because they are naturally very, very competitive."

That spirit of competitiveness filters down from the parents.

Sos added, "I make (my kids) know that they must work hard to make us proud, not just to have fun. I also tell them that there is no such thing like 'I cannot do it.' Now, my son tells me, 'Dad, I want to top all of my sports before I graduate from middle school.'"

Julio Kepwe -- who plans to go to Hawaii next school year to join his older sister, Mina Kepwe, at Waianae High School in Oahu -- said he wants to continue to play sports in Hawaii. Playing interscholastic sports on Guam has given him a foundation on which to build.

Back on the hardwood court once more, Julio Kepwe and his teammates worked the perimeter. Their ball movement continued as they picked up another possession. Boom, boom, boom -- and swish! -- another basket for the Roadrunners.

That was how Julio Kepwe's team did business on the basketball court all season. And that was how they finished with a 14-2 record, which tied them with the F.B. Leon Guerrero Hawks -- who won the title by a tiebreaker.

But in the recent Guam Interscholastic Federation Middle School Boys' Basketball League Invitational Tournament -- 12 teams, including the Hawks and several private schools, participated -- the Gold Roadrunners took the title. Julio Kepwe, Saperna and Fareway were right in the middle of the celebration at the end of the game.

If this trend with Federated States of Micronesia students continues, more and more of them will rise to the top of their games, bringing a wealth of diverse experiences to their schools and their teams.

March 30, 2006

Pacific Daily News: www.guampdn.com

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