‘Friday Night Lights’ gives students new opportunies

Beacon on Friday

Alexandria Buchanan, editor

From bowling to football, and everything in between, most students have different options to play a team sport and represent McKinley High School against other island schools  However, “most” does not mean all and some students don’t get the same opportunities their peers have due to disadvantages they are unable to control or prevent. The “Friday Night Lights” project gives these students the opportunity to represent their school on a sports team and get the student athlete experience.

This program allows special needs students to play basketball head to head with others around the island. They have the opportunity to play a competitive game and learn what it’s like to be on a team.

“Friday Night Lights” was started in 2015 by The University of Hawaii Department of Kinesiology and Rehabilitation Science program. When it first started, Roosevelt and Kalani were the only schools that participated, but this year Moanalua and McKinley students were invited.

“This league was definitely positive and impactful for the students and adults involved,” said Jodi Tanabe-Hanzawa, coach of the MHS team. “Every athlete definitely showed growth from the beginning to the end of the league… The students have gotten closer and respect each other more.”

Many of these students involved would be unable to play on the school’s official athletic teams, which made this program an opportunity for them and their families. These players were supported by their coaches, peer mentors, parents, and even their classmates who came to games, made signs, and cheered. The students who participated and played on the teams were in high spirits as they were praised and encouraged by the supportive audience.

The peer mentors on each team were able to play with and assist the players. Many of them were on the basketball team that plays in the OIA league for their schools. Thanks to Friday Night Lights, these athletes were able to coach and befriend these students they don’t usually get a chance to know.

Senior Stephen Martin was a peer mentor for the Tigers and attended practices and games to aid the team.

“I think this program was good for them because it gives them a chance to shine and actually lets them shine,” said Martin. “I saw a lot of growth in all the teams. I just hope that there are other people that can give their time for the community. I’ve also learned so much from this program, and I bet they did as well.”

The students who were involved showed their school pride by carrying themselves respectfully on and off the court towards each other and their opponents. They played hard and win or lose, they shook the other team’s hands, showing true sportsmanship.

Junior Kahealani Gumataotao was one of the players representing MHS this year. This was her first time participating on an athletic team.

“I enjoyed it because I got to play against other teams, and plus I got to learn how to work with my teammates,” Gumataotao said. “We need more time together, it’s really fun.”

It is not certain whether McKinley will be involved in the next Friday Night Lights or not, but it is clear that players, student mentors, and coaches agree that it is a great opportunity for these students.

“Every school should have teams for these students to give them the opportunity they would’ve never had,” Tanabe-Hanzawa said. “The athletes will never forget their experience and will cherish their memories. My team members are talking about next year and the students exiting school told me they wished we had this in the previous years.”