85 years ago this week: ‘Iolani stuns Saint Louis, 12-0, in historic ILH debut

‘Iolani left halfback Roy Chong slips a tackle at Alexander Field.
(Photo courtesy Armand Chong)

The ‘Iolani Raiders will play host to Saint Louis (2) at 3:15 p.m. Friday in an Interscholastic League of Honolulu varsity football game at Eddie Hamada Field.

Almost exactly 85 years prior, at 3 p.m. on Sept. 25, 1936, ‘Iolani made its historic ILH varsity sports debut by stunning established powerhouse Saint Louis, 12-0, on a Friday afternoon at Punahou’s Alexander Field.

‘Iolani, which was founded in 1863 but never had an athletic program until Father Kenneth Bray arrived from Pennsylvania and started one from scratch in 1932, was so lightly regarded that Bray had to aggressively campaign to have the school gain admittance into the ILH in early 1936.

On the game’s eve, a Honolulu Star-Bulletin headline read, “FAVOR SAINTS OVER IOLANIS”. The article described Saint Louis as a “heavy favorite … because of superior material,” and stated about ‘Iolani: “It is no secret the upper Nuuanu school hasn’t the material of other schools … (and) where Iolani will also be handicapped is in weight. St. Louis will be at least nine pounds heavier per man. The Iolanis’ average 152 pounds on the line and 143 in the backfield.”

The next morning’s Honolulu Advertiser headline read, “ST. LOUIS FAVORED TO DEFEAT IOLANI TODAY”. But the un-bylined article quickly stated that “the Nuuanu school … should give the Saints a tough battle … The game will be close.”

The Advertser also predicted that “a good size crowd is expected to take in the game to give the Saints and the Iolanis a once over.”

The final score was close, but only because ‘Iolani squandered two touchdown opportunities near the goal line.

After a scoreless first half, Tomoji Tamura recovered a punt block by Alex Burso in the end zone to put ‘Iolani ahead, 6-0 (extra point failed) early, and then “a few minutes later Paul Newalu recovered a (Saints) fumble … on the fifteen-yard line,” The Advertiser reported.

Eight plays later, “husky Iolani fullback” Bill Sing plunged in from 1 yard out to make it 12-0 (conversion attempt failed again).

Advertiser sports writer Andrew Mitsukado led off his article, subheaded as “Big Upset Registered in Prep Loop,” by writing:

“Iolani High school (sic) is an infant member of the Interscholastic League of Honolulu, but it has a football aggression that is the equal of any team in the conference,” adding that “the Nuuanu gridders … startled 2500 fans.”

“It was a big upset,” Mitsukado wrote, “and in scoring their spectacular victory, Father Kenneth Bray’s proteges uncorked a hard charging line which played no small part in deciding the outcome of the fray.

“Iolani dominated play all through the game except for isolated instances. The Nuuanu forwards were continually breaking through to harass the opposing ball carriers. Little Tomoji Tamura, right guard, and Alex Burso, left tackle, did plenty of the damage, the former time and again breaking up plays at their inception and Burso blocking several punts.”

Mitsukado later added, “The Nuuanuans showed the effects of good coaching and there was no trace of the ‘greenness’ they showed when they answered the first call for candidates by Father Bray and his assistants, Bill Among and Henry ‘Toots’ Harrison.

“They played good, hard football, and they deserved to win.

“Many of the 2,500 fans must have felt sorry for the Iolani gridders as they came onto the field all dressed up in a colorful uniform before the game and hoped that they would at least make a credible showing against the Saints who were favored to win.

“But what happened is something the spectators will not soon forget.”

Here is to the hope that future generations of Raiders won’t forget, either.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *