Am. Samoa Football All-Stars Seek Exposure In Hawaii

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Players joins tournament seeking to be seen by recruiters

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, Jan. 4, 2016) – After more than a decade hosting the Samoa Bowl in the territory, Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga wants high school senior football players to get more exposure off island where more college football recruiters are available and that’s the reason the American Samoa All-Star Football Team is participating at a football tournament this week in Honolulu.

This is according to Education director Vaitinasa Dr. Salu Hunkin-Finau, who offered this explanation during a monthly press conference held last Wednesday, before the American Samoa delegation departed last Friday night for Hawai’i for the first annual JPS Paradise Football Classic at Aloha Stadium.

Also attending the news conference were American Samoa High School Athletic Association (ASHAA) officials Tumua Matu’u and Rod Atafua, who explained that selection of the All Star Team for Hawai’i was delayed until after the ASHAA championship football game for the 2015-2016 season.

Of the 42 players selected for the All Star Team, one player — Fredrick Mauigoa of Tafuna High School — departed earlier after he was personally invited to play in the Blue-Grey Bowl All-American Bowl for high school players in Texas, said Atafua who added that Mauigoa would join the American Samoa team this week in Honolulu.

On the issue of who is funding travel for the team, Vaitinasa first pointed out that the total delegation to Hawai’i is 60-plus, which includes players, coaches and ASDOE officials. She says airfares are all paid for by the government, which also pays the registration fee for each player, a hefty $375 per person.

According to the Education director, Hawaiian Airlines offered reduced airfares for the delegation based on preparations and discussions with tournament officials in Honolulu.

According to ASDOE information handed out at the news conference, JPS-Junior Pre Sports, who’s president and CEO is Robert Faleafine, assisted in organizing hotel accommodations, transportation, tours, and meals with help from donations from Hawai’i businesses, workers’ unions, etc.

And the outcome of participating in the Hawai’i tournament, according to ASDOE information: opportunities for student athletes to showcase their talents, skills and athleticism; and possibility of off-island athletic scholarships to colleges and universities.

During the news conference Vaitinasa recognized several times, the support of the governor for his commitment and support for "our young athletes in their education and future pursuits."

And getting recruited by a college or university could mean a football scholarship for "our seniors in which they can further their education but also continue to play football," Vaitinasa said. "This is the time of the year that football recruiters will be out scouting for players and this is a perfect chance to showcase our players to them."

"And this is the main goal and wish by the governor — give our students a chance to play off island in a football tournament, to expose their talents and skills to college football recruiters. Samoan football players are targets of college recruiters, because Samoan players have the talent and the strength to play," she said.

American Samoa’s team will compete with two teams from Hawai’i and one from California during the tournament, which Vaitinasa and other officials believe will attract many college and university football recruiters.

Atafua added that the Samoa Bowl would attract about 4 to five recruiters from off island and the reasons for the small number of recruiters is that it’s expensive to travel here. However, he says playing in Honolulu is expected to attract more recruiters from not only universities and colleges in Hawai’i but those from the US mainland.

Through the territory’s participation in the Hawai’i, Vaitinasa said, "I think American Samoa is going to be the incubator for future NFL players.

"This is the first time for this event which will be held every year," she said, and pointed out that the tournament will be held at Aloha Stadium and "it’s going to be a new experience for our kids who have never played on a turf" at a stadium, which is unlike the grassy and sometimes muddy field at the Veterans Memorial Stadium in Tafuna.

Right after the news conference, Matu’u released to the news media the official All Star roster and the team’s itinerary. According to the ASHAA information, the team is staying at the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani Hotel in the heart of Waikiki. (Click on attachment below to see PDF of the Team Roster.)

American Samoa’s first game is Thursday with the second and final game on Saturday, before they return to Pago Pago next week Monday.

VOLLEYBALL TEAM

As to why no high school female volleyball team is going to Hawai’i to showcase local talent, Vaitinasa said there are a couple of reasons and the major one is funding. (Samoa Bowl included the girl’s volleyball tournament, attracting teams from Hawai’i and the US mainland.)

She says a volleyball team consists of 10 players and two coaches, adding that leadership decision was made not to include volleyball this year, until next year when there is enough time for advance preparations. "This year will focus on football and this is an opportunity for us to learn too with a lot of preparations involved taking a team to Hawai’i," she said.

Vaitinasa acknowledged that the Samoa Bowl was the chance for many players — both football and volleyball — from Hawai’i and the mainland to visit American Samoa for the first time and to meet their families. Additionally, the visitors also helped fuel the economy.

However, she says players in American Samoa never had a chance to expose their football talent outside of the territory in their senior year and playing off island is a chance for them to get a scholarship in football as well as furthering their education.

Samoa News should point out that some of the high school football team programs have taken their teams off-island during the summer for training and experience— Fagaitua High School was the most recent, going to Hawai’i to play three high school teams, which included St. Louis High School. Funding the off-island trips has been the responsibility of the team itself, with parents and school supporters — alumni and friends — donating to various fundraisers held by the team.

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