Lenny Rapozo Jr. sits in the stands at Vidinha Stadium and gazes out at the field. It’s a familiar sight to him, but usually from a much different perspective. Whenever he’s at the Lihue stadium, there’s typically a crowd going wild in the stands. And rather than sitting with them, he’s with the players on the field, watching their every move like a hawk and making tough calls as officiator.
But, at this moment, he’s thinking his father, Leonard, or “Leo,” with whom he used to share the field. “He’s here,” says Rapozo.
The Kauai native still feels his dad, who died in 2009, officiating with him at every game. He’s proud to take on his father’s legacy as a voluntary officiator for keiki sports. For the past three decades, Rapozo has presided over many games, including Kauai Interscholastic Federation football and basketball, Mighty Mite basketball and Kauai Pop Warner Football League (KPWFL).
He never takes a game lightly, not only because he feels his dad watching, but also because he wants the kids, no matter their age or experience, to get his full attention.
“I’m hustling,” he says, “knowing that the kids are going to get a good game from me because it’s their Super Bowl.”
He empathizes with each player and how much they take their games to heart. Rapozo grew up playing football, basketball, baseball and volleyball. He knows that investing time in children through sports is a big part of character development. Besides teaching sportsmanship, athletics inspire other values, like responsibility, respect and perseverance. “We should help develop our kids because it strengthens our community,” says Rapozo. “We produce good citizens,”
Besides officiating, Rapozo also instills principles through coaching the Lihue Lakers purple and gold basketball teams. He sees the positive effects, like proper decorum, that the activity has on the players, including his son, Kelsen. “And it’s not just on the court, it’s off the court,” says Rapozo, “because you’re not only representing the Lihue Lakers, you represent fellow teammates; yourself. But most importantly, you represent your family.”
It’s amazing how Rapozo finds so much time to positively influence keiki. Not only does the coach officiate a plethora of games, but he also has a full-time gig as director of Kauai County Department of Parks and Recreation.
The job is responsible for some 200 employees, as well as the upkeep and maintenance of nearly 500 acres of county parks, including 11 neighborhood centers, two clubhouses, Wailua Golf Course, Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall, Kapaa multi-use path, three stadium complexes, 29 beach parks and two swimming pools. He also manages the county’s recreation programs for youths and seniors.
The youth program includes a basketball league, as well as seasonal enrichment programs. Each summer, for example, keiki enroll in a program that includes educational components and field trips to places such as Fern Grotto.
Seniors also have plenty of recreational opportunities throughout the year. Senior centers offer different activities, such as ikebana, quilting, sushi making, tai chi, Filipino dancing and pickleball, on a regular basis.
Since Rapozo accepted his position in 2008, after encouragement from Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr., he’s been busy. Maintenance projects, including fixing Kilauea Gym’s roof, installing lights on the baseball field at Vidinha Stadium and renovating Lydgate Beach Park, have been completed. And he’s always working on new projects, such as updating Poipu Beach Park.
It might still be a while, but he also hopes to reinstate Friday night football games at some point. A federal Habitat Conservation Plan is currently in the works, and the county is negotiating costs and permission to “take” a certain number of Newell’s shearwater each fledgling season (a “take” means everything from a bird dying to a bird circling the lights).
“If we could, we would play Friday nights,” he says, “but we have the county being risked the fines. I don’t think that would be responsible.”
That’s one of the values he tries to inspire in keiki year after year. Every sport teaches responsibility, though he still believes football relates most directly to life. “In football, every inch of that field you got to earn,” says Rapozo, who has a daughter, Machaela with wife Janine. “And the other team wants that inch and doesn’t want to give it to you. It’s like in life: You want something in life, you got to earn it; you got to work hard for it.”
And if you want to cheat, someone like Rapozo is going to catch you. “Same thing in life,” he says.
As Rapozo discusses the many reasons he continues to spend so much free time dedicated to keiki sports, he brings the conversation full circle. On that bright, sunny day at Vidinha Stadium, he shares that he’s thrilled his son is the next generation to grab the Rapozo legacy torch. At only 11, he’s the youngest referee for KPWFL.
Bringing son Kelsen out with him on the field is something you can tell his dad is extremely proud of. “It’s in his blood,” he says.