Polynesian Football Hall of Fame, PCC ties back-story

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The Polynesian Football Hall of Fame at the Polynesian Cultural Center

A Polynesian Cultural Center honor guard in front of the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame. (PCC photo by Mike Foley)

Starting about five years ago, the Polynesian Cultural Center partnered with the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame to host its permanent home in Laie, Hawaii.

Today, the PFHOF is a beautiful addition to the PCC’s Hukilau Marketplace, and is open free to the public. The PFHOF’s enshrined its Class of 2018 there during special ceremonies on January 20, 2018. Still, some people wonder about the ties between the PCC and the PFHOF.

Origins of the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame

Former University of Hawaii head football coach June Jones shared a memory during the most recent PFHOF enshrinement program at the PCC. Now head coach of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the Canadian Football Organization, Jones told how he, Jesse Sapolu and Ma’a Tanuvasa “had this vision about the whole thing on a bus trip in American Samoa” more than five years ago.

Sapolu (Samoan, OL) After playing for the University of Hawaii, the 49ers selected Sapolu in 1983. After 14 seasons, he is one of 23 players in NFL History with four or more Super Bowl rings. Tanuvasa (Samoan, DE) also played for UH, including the 1992 WAC champion team. The LA Rams drafted him in 1995, but he spent the majority of his pro career with the Denver Broncos, and also played for San Diego and Atlanta.

“I told them I had just come from the Black College Football Hall of Fame,” Jones recalled, and suggested they should do something similar for Polynesian players. “I said, you guys need to take the lead. I don’t have time to do it, but you guys can do it. It will be awesome, and bigger than anything.”

With Sapolu as chairman and Tanuvasa as vice-chairman, they established the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame as a federal 501(C)(3) non-profit organization in 2013, to honor Polynesia’s greatest players, coaches and contributors. Jones joined the board of directors, and they named a highly respected selection committee to pick the annual honorees.

The charitable mission of the PFHOF

More specifically, they established the PFHOF with a charitable mission:

  • Preserve, promote and serve as a resource for Polynesian Football history.
  • College scholarships designated for student-athletes of Polynesian ancestry will be awarded to the alma mater of each Polynesian Football Hall of Fame Inductee.
  • Educational programs focusing on character and teamwork for youth within the Polynesian community.
  • Support may also be provided for other initiatives positively benefiting Polynesian culture and heritage.

Since its inception, the PFHOF presented Jones with its 2014 Founder’s Award, named Sapolu to the Class of 2015, and Tanuvasa to the Class of 2017.

Selecting the annual honorees is, perhaps, the most visible part of the PFHOF; and Jones said the selection committee has an increasingly tough responsibility. “Every year is very difficult. There are so many guys who are still playing and getting ready. I’m looking forward to having them here with us some day; but the thing that makes this event more amazing to me is that the former players and people associated with the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame come back, to give back to the community. Every year it just gets bigger and better.”

Finding a permanent home for the hall of fame

As the PFHOF concept developed, so did the need for a permanent home. Vai Sikahema, a board member and Class of 2015 inductee, recalled the Polynesian Cultural Center — Hawaii’s most popular visitor attraction — quickly came up.

Sikahema, who has family connections to the PCC, said he is still in awe that the Cultural Center agreed to host the Hall of Fame. “When we started this five years ago, our board was trying to figure out where we could place the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame.” When the PCC was suggested, Sikahema said his first reaction was that “its sponsoring institution and the Polynesian Cultural Center are very selective with whom they partner. It would be great, but I didn’t think there’s any way we could partner with them.”

“Three months later, I learned via email that the Polynesian Cultural Center was, indeed, willing to host the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame,” Sikahema said. “I was beside myself.”

Alfred Grace, Keala and Vai Sikahema

Polynesian Cultural Center president and CEO Alfred Grace (left), PFHOF director and 2015 inductee Vai Sikahema (right), and his wife, Keala Heder Sikahema (center), who worked at the PCC as a young woman. (PCC photo by Mike Foley)

The PCC welcomes the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame

While standing in front of the classy PFHOF galley during his welcoming remarks for the Jan. 20, 2018, enshrinement ceremony, Alfred Grace, president and CEO of the PCC, said, “This is very much a part of the Polynesian Cultural Center, which was created to preserve and portray the cultures of Polynesia.”

He explained that the PCC “is governed by cultural beliefs. One of our cultural beliefs is to nurture, cultivate and magnify the PCC legacy with passion and commitment.”

To the Class of 2017 he said, “Hundreds of thousands of people will pass through this Polynesian Football Hall of Fame. Many of them will be young Polynesian boys who, learning of you and the legacy that you have given them, will be nurtured and cultivated, and then be committed to pursue their life goals with a passion and commitment. They will see that as they read about you. They will see in you the young boy that they are now, and the men that they may become.”

“We are delighted to have the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame here at the Polynesian Cultural Center,” Grace said. “Welcome to all of you. It’s an honor to have you here with us.”

Come visit the PFHOF at the Polynesian Cultural Center

And so it began. The next time you’re in Laie, you really must “meet” the Polynesian football legends enshrined among the plaques, photos, mementos, interactive display and Wall of Honor in the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame gallery at the Polynesian Cultural Center.


Other stories about the January 2018 event can be found here:

PFHOF enshrines Class of 2018 at PCC

Polynesian football legends: More than ‘warriors’


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Mike Foley

Story by Mike Foley, who has been a full-time freelance writer and digital media specialist since 2002. Prior to that he had a long career in marketing communications, PR, journalism and university education. Foley learned to speak fluent Samoan as a Mormon missionary before moving to Laie in 1967 — and still does. He has traveled extensively over the years throughout Polynesia, other Pacific islands and Asia. Foley is mostly retired now, but continues to contribute to PCC and various other media.

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