Insight, News, and Opinion by Nick Abramo
  • July 26, 2021
Former Waialua Six-Sport Athlete James Strong — A Man Of Zeal — Is As Unsung As They Come

Since May, Bedrock Sports Hawaii has posted less than 100 stories, and now — with the publishing of this one — we have two involving the athletic program at Waialua High School, which is not usually a media hotbed.

Another unbelievably great thing is that stories kind of like fly right over to me now. Literally. One story had to do with a bird who decided to visit my garage. Turns out, it was a pigeon racer. An athlete, so to speak.

And another story that came my way was while I was doing a delivery job (“We got to install microwave ovens, custom kitchen deliveries. We got to move these refrigerators. We’ve got move these color TVs” — Dire Straits). The people receiving the goods ordered from a big-box store just happened to be freshmen UH volleyball players, having just arrived during this bizarre pandemic. When you’re a reporter and the stories come to you, it’s a good idea to not let them fly away.

So the fun continues with another chance happening at a big-box store. Unlike the last time, when the customer service was comically poor, this time, the customer service was A-plus.

I mean, when do customer service representatives actually run to help you out? Forest Gump would definitely do that, sir!!!

And so would James Strong. Yup. He doesn’t fool around when he’s working. If he has to get from point A to point B, he runs. He doesn’t amble.

James Strong, Waialua High Class of 2019, was an outside hitter for the Bulldogs.
(Photo from Facebook)

I was standing at an exit at Home Depot with some heavy goods to load onto my truck, so I asked the checkout person if someone could help. Well, Superman didn’t show up right away. But she yelled across the street toward the elevator to a worker. That worker, I found out later, was James Strong, who came running over just as the checkout person disappeared.

Well, James — or ‘Man of Zeal’ might fit better — went right past me and into the store. He was looking for directions — not me.

I thought to myself, “Oh maybe the checkout person was telling him to help somebody else and that she was going inside to get another clerk to help me.”

So, not knowing for sure, I decided to cross the street to the elevator so I could wait for whoever was going to help me. My truck was parked on the second floor.

Next thing you know, James comes running back across the street and over to me and we enter the elevator.

“You like to run, huh?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. “I can keep in better shape that way.”

At the very least, that was an interesting tad-bit, but not quite story material yet. I mean, Forest Gump did more than run. … And so does James Strong, as we shall learn later.

Being a sports journalist for the last 40 years, I figured I’d ask the standard question I ask many young people: “Do you play sports?”

“Yes,” he answered.

Turns out he played six different sports at Waialua High, including football and volleyball, before graduating in 2019.

And then the standard line of questioning and small-kine (anyone reading this from the mainland should know that small-kine is spelled correctly) advice began to kick in:

“Do you play in college? Do you want to play in college? Do you know you can play in college if you want to? You gotta want it. Were you recruited? You know you can play at small colleges. Did I mention you just have to want it?”

James responded that he had planned to play volleyball at a small college, but decided to stay home and work on becoming a firefighter. Did Forest do that?

I told James that I wanted to write about him and briefly showed him my website on my phone (when it was, before the changeover to — all of this while pretty much giving him a 10-minute break from work that he probably didn’t want to take at all since we kind of know that his work ethic must be pretty outstanding.

Being fairly busy with other stories at the time, I told James I would call him in a few weeks. We discussed the Bulldogs football team a bit and he told me he played with all-star lineman Mathan Hatchie a few years ago. I told him that I speak to coach Lincoln Barit at least a few times during every football season.

Then, after a few texts and a phone call to James over the period of more than a month without a response, I figured he wasn’t interested in being interviewed for a story. So, I put in a phone call to Bryce Kaneshiro, the former Waialua athletic director who has been the Aiea High AD for about a year.

Bryce gave me plenty of information about James — enough for a story. So today, just before sitting down to write this, I figured I’d try one more time by calling the number that I thought belonged to James. Unexpectedly, somebody else answered and that pretty much means I didn’t get his phone number correct.

Well, I figured I’d put in a call to the Honolulu Home Depot to see if I could reach him there, knowing the chances were slim. The phone rang and rang and rang. They must have been super busy. (Author’s note: Writers typically write better when they’re in the mood to write and today is one of those days. Talking to the main character would be great, but the story can still work — hopefully — without that. And maybe if and James reads this, he can reach me and tell me which six sports he played and we can do a Part 2).

Mr. Kaneshiro did not know the exact sports James played, but took an educated guess of soccer, football, volleyball, cross country, JV basketball and either track and field or paddling.

“He’s a super nice kid,” Kaneshiro said, and somehow those words were expected. “What you described (running while working at Home Depot), I can picture him doing that. And he’s genuinely doing it. He’s the type of person who is always willing to help out. He’s the first guy who would always ask me, ‘Do you need help with this or anything.’

“He’s a pretty good athlete and has good size. And (small-enrollment) Waialua needs athletes to play different sports. Any coach would want to have him. He’s a good kid, he tries hard and has natural athletic ability that allows him to produce.”

In football, Kaneshiro remembers James as a defensive lineman (listed as 6 feet, 190 pounds on an old Waialua roster).

“At Waialua, some kids come out late (for football) and he wasn’t out yet, so I wasn’t sure if he was going to come out all summer,” Kaneshiro said. “He did come out eventually, but he wasn’t acclimated and ready to play yet so he had to sit out the first two games. Then, the very first play he goes in, I think it was against McKinley, he gets either a tackle for loss or a quarterback sack. He did it so easily. Imagine if he came out earlier.

“For him, sports is not life. It’s more just to do it and have fun and to just be a part of it. It was not his main driving force. Volleyball, he really likes. And he had the size for football, but didn’t really love contact sports. He had a big heart and he didn’t like hurting people. Running into people, they’re going to get hurt and he felt bad.”

Author’s guess: He’s so helpful to others that he doesn’t quite understand how blasting into someone is actually doing any help at all.

But some day, if and when James becomes a firefighter, he will be helping just by doing what he does. Seems like a perfect fit. We know for sure that he won’t be ambling into a burning building.

“It doesn’t surprise me that he wants to be a firefigther,” Kaneshiro said. “I can see him being a first responder. I can almost see him running into danger to help people because that’s the right thing to do. He’ll be really good at it.

“Even now, when I see him, he’ll come up and say hi to me. And I know he doesn’t care for the spotlight and will probably be embarrassed (when he reads the story), but the story on him is his character.”

Six sports at tiny Waialua High. A leader by doing. Not in the limelight. James Strong is as unsung as they come.

ALSO AT BEDROCK SPORTS HAWAII: Rainbow Warriors’ 8 True Freshmen From Hawaii Are Adjusting To The College Football Scene

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