Roosevelt-‘Iolani series dates back to 1936

This was the feature photo of The Honolulu Advertiser Sports Section on Oct. 14, 1936, the night ‘Iolani and Roosevelt met for the first time in a varsity sport. The 85-year old series resumes this Friday night. (Photo clipped from

When ‘Iolani takes the field at 7 p.m. Friday night at Roosevelt’s iconic Ticky Vasconcellos Stadium for a key Division I interleague football showdown, it will resume a series between the two schools that dates back some 85 years.

The first meeting on Oct. 14, 1936 was also a big deal, even bigger than this week’s meeting between the undefeated Raiders (8-0) and potentially dangerous Rough Riders (1-2).

Despite being a rare Wednesday night game, it drew close to 10,000 fans at the old Honolulu Stadium. That’s almost twice the attendance of the Nov. 6 college football game between Hawai’i and San Diego State two Saturdays ago.

‘Iolani, coached by then-little known Father Kenneth A. Bray, was in its debut season as a varsity program but had already drawn attention by stunning longtime power St. Louis, 12-0, in the opener two weeks prior.

Roosevelt, meanwhile, was 2-0 and had established itself as a contender under its already well known head coach Neal S. Blaisdell, the future Mayor of Honolulu.

Besides being the first-ever varsity meeting between the two schools in any sport, the game also marked two other significant “firsts” for ‘Iolani:

  1. It was the first ‘Iolani football game to be played at night. The season-opening upset against St. Louis happened at Punahou’s Alexander Field, and a 7-0 loss to Kamehameha in the next game was held at the Warriors’ home field near the old King Street campus, across from where Farrington High School now stands.

  2. It was the first ‘Iolani football game played at Honolulu Stadium, where most of its games would be held over the next 38 years.

In fact, it was such a big deal, Father Bray held practice at the Stadium under the lights on the game’s eve in order to acclimate his players to the venue and atmosphere.

Alas, Roosevelt proved to be the better team on game night, prevailing 21-0.

Despite the point differential, Advertiser sports writer Andrew Mitsukado described the game as “the best yet seen this season at the Moiliili gridiron. The fans had hardly settled in their seats when Roosevelt and Iolani took turns in driving down the field with a spectacular burst of brilliant offensive. And all through the game there was a profusion of spine-tickling plays.”

And unlike these days, when some people head for the exits even during a one-possession nail-biter, Mitsukado wrote, “So absorbed in the tussle were the fans in the game that hardly a fan left the scene of the battle until after the final play …”

The Rough Riders came out on top thanks in large part to a stalwart defense and what Mitsukado described as a “triple-barreled running attack featuring (Joseph) Kaulukukui, (Nolle) Smith and (Jim) Olmos.” Kaulukukui threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to Smith to help Roosevelt take a 7-0 lead in the second quarter. Both would later go on to star at UH, with Smith setting records and eventually being inducted into the school’s prestigious Circle of Honor. Olmos also lettered for the Rainbows.

‘Iolani hung tough and it remained 7-0 until the third quarter, when Olmos scored on a short TD run to cap a 46-yard drive. The Rough Riders then made it 21-0 in the fourth quarter on a 17-yard pass-and-lateral play, and Kaulukukui later sealed the victory with an interception.

Remember, everyone played both ways back then, and Kaulukukui also served as place kicker and punt returner.

Remember also that Roosevelt belonged to the ILH in those days, and so this 1936 meeting was the first of an annual rivalry that continued until 1970, after which the Rough Riders joined the OIA.

But even after that, ‘Iolani would sometimes play ILH games at Roosevelt, which was used as an alternate site probably on weekends where the OIA had Aloha Stadium reserved on Friday nights and UH had a home game on Saturday.

In any event, Friday night’s “tussle” will add yet another chapter to the 85-year history between these two friendly Honolulu rivals.

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