KPAL: Every Keiki’s Pal
There are many reasons to love Kauai Police Activities League (KPAL), but the main one has got to be the abundance of smiles beaming from faces of keiki as they enjoy the variety of year-round programs offered by the nonprofit.
“She loves it, she absolutely loves it,” says Bonnie Bator of her granddaughter Loea Keana‘aina, a student at Kapaa Elementary who has participated in the KPAL wrestling class for two years.
Keana‘aina was among a group of keiki who literally were bursting with joy for an entire hour-and-a-half during a recent KPAL wrestling class (held each Friday from 4:30 to 6 p.m. at Kapaa Youth Center). You can’t miss the kids’ excitement as they participate in everything from one-on-one wrestling to strength-training drills like push-ups, squats and Army crawls.
“And she complains that it’s not long enough,” adds Bator, as she watches from the sidelines.
This joy is part of the reason Kauai Police Department’s KPAL has taken off since its inception on Kauai in the early 2000s. In fact, it’s grown so much that a full-time KPD officer, Mitchell Collier, recently was tapped to oversee all of the programs, which include boxing, martial arts, wrestling, basketball and flag football, as well as non-athletic programs such as learning to play chess with Chief of Police Darryl Perry.
The local chapter is affiliated with the national program (PAL) that aims to keep kids off the streets and away from illegal activities by providing them with positive enrichment, including athletic and educational activities.
It’s an effort to build and enhance relationships between police officers and keiki, easing their fears and “sneaking in” some anti-drug and prevention messages at the same time.
“We want to make sure these kids can make good life decisions, and we’re trying to help them and push them to reach their full potential,” says Collier.
Prior to Collier’s assignment, KPAL was a voluntary labor of love headed largely by Lt. Mark Ozaki.
“He’s the father of it all,” says Collier. “He’s teaching me the ropes. They’re really big shoes to fill, though.”
A sports enthusiast and longtime coach, Ozaki was on the original team that orchestrated KPAL. At the time, Pop Warner had cancelled its flag football program and KPAL stepped in to help, under the assumption that only about 80-100 children would be participating.
“We thought that was very manageable,” recalls Ozaki.
As soon as it made the announcement, however, KPAL quickly ended up with 350 registrations.
“So it was a challenging first year, but we never looked back since then,” says Ozaki.
The group followed up by implementing North Shore Basketball League, which continues to be about “300 strong,” says Ozaki, thanks to community members like Bill Troutman, part of the larger network of voluntary mentors and coaches that includes police officers and firefighters willing to lend a hand.
KPAL programs are held at Kapaa and Lihue youth centers or at Hanapepe Gym, and are available to kids ages 5 to 19. Only a healthy dose of competition exists in the classes and every child gets a chance to participate. For instance, each child plays a minimum of two quarters of a basketball game, and during flag football games keiki must participate in at least six to eight plays during each half.
The goal for Collier is to add more classes, even for those not athletically inclined, like video-game leagues, which actually may encourage and entice them to get involved in physical activities as well. One of KPAL’s biggest goals right now, however, is to rebuild its Lihue Youth Center so that it can offer more services.
“It’s like a snowball. It’s just getting bigger and bigger — it starts with a little, round snowball and hopefully becomes an avalanche,” says Ozaki.
The Waimea High School grad says he hopes KPAL will continue expanding to be “better than ever,” competing with the ranks of groups already well-established, such as Honolulu Police Department’s PAL.
“Without him, this wouldn’t be going on,” says
Collier of Ozaki. “He’s not going anywhere; he’s going to be by my side helping me throughout everything.”
Ozaki admits he wouldn’t know what to do without KPAL.
“I just really like hanging out with kids. I like helping kids and, you know, it’s like a bug and once you get that bug, that itch, it doesn’t go away,” he says. “It’s all about the kids. It’s all about the future.”
KPAL hosts its first Hammerhead Sprint Triathlon and 5K Fun Run/Walk July 17. Register at kauai.gov/ KPAL/upcomingevents. Visit kauai.gov/kpal or KPAL’s Facebook page for more information. Class registration costs $25 and scholarships are available.
PHOTOS: COCO ZINGARO