The Haili Volleyball Tournament is held every March during spring break (not everybody). There are both men’s and women’s divisions and also a boys and girls Junior division.
Many years before the Haili Men ever dreamed of hosting a volleyball tournament, the late Albert Nahale-a, a famous songwriter, member then director of the famous Haili Choir organized the Haili Boys Club with three objectives in mind: 1) the religious education of its young members, 2) the development of their innate talents and abilities in music, and 3) a well rounded athletic program. The Haili Boy’s Club grew and encouraged its members in their pursuits. Then, the boys became men. Many were called into service during World War II. When they returned home, these boys, now men, reorganized their club with Mr. Nahale-a and thus emerged the Haili Men’s Club.
The Haili Men’s Club Invitational Volleyball Tournament was started in 1958 as a way of extending Christian fellowship through sports. From its small beginnings as a tournament attracting local teams that played in the Haili Gym, it has grown in 50 years to one of the premier tournaments in the United States. It is the second largest sports event on the Big Island of Hawaii, surpassed only by the Ironman Triathlon. It is one of the longest running sporting events in the State of Hawai’i. As many as 185 teams have participated in this annual tournament from most of the Hawaiian Islands as well as Guam, Samoa, Japan, British Columbia, Oregon, Washington, Arizona and California. The largest numbers travel from Oahu.
The tournament was the brainchild of Tommy Lindsey, Kihei Brown, Albert Nahale-a and Arnold Nathaniel, all members of the Haili Men’s Club in the early years. They saw it as a way of expanding the outreach of the Club. No entry fee was charged for the first 20 years. To cover the expenses of trophies and the free luau at the conclusion of the games, for all the officials and players, Men’s Club members asked for donations from local businesses. Through the years, the free luau has continued, but in the early 80’s the tournament started to charge a $25 entry fee, which helped to defray some of the expenses of running a growing tournament. In 1983, the tournament entry fee increased to $50. Ten years later, for the 35th Annual tournament, that fee was increased to $100.
For many years, the luau has served over 1500 tournament participants. After each luau, awards are presented for All Stars, MVPs, and Most Outstanding Players, in addition to sportsmanship, team and coaches trophies. Also for much of its history, the Haili Tournament was played during the week before Easter, which was the DOE Spring Break at the time, to take advantage of the Good Friday holiday. When the DOE changed Spring Break to the last full week of March, younger players could not participate because it became more difficult for them to be out of school for the tournament. Additionally, the tournament was getting so big that organizers needed more help. Since many local players could be off during Spring Break, effective in 1990, the tournament was moved to DOE’s Spring Break.
Through the years, teams large and small, such as Lokahi, Kamali’i, Outrigger, Maui Brothers, Paki Park, Bobby’s Rebels and Sons of Samoa joined Hilo teams with names like Triple A, Puakenekene, Keaukaha, Pilipa’a, and perennial Haili women’s teams. They have brought thousands of players, supporters and fans to Hilo for a week of tough competition and fun. That first tournament had twelve teams in two divisions, men’s and women’s Open, playing in a double elimination format. Compare that to today’s teams competing in 8 adult divisions and 8 junior divisions. Eventually, the B’s and novices were separated from the Open teams and Men Masters were added. In 1986, during the 30th Annual Tournament, the A’s were separated from AA’s. That was also the first year for Women Masters. In 1994, the tournament broke away from the traditional double elimination format and introduced pool play followed by single elimination for the pool winners.
As the tournament grew and more courts were needed to accommodate the teams, the Hilo Armory and Piihonua Gym were added as sites. Ken Griffin, a later member of the Haili Men’s Club, is credited with really expanding the tournament to include teams from other islands and the mainland. Haili Gym was abandoned as a playing site. Not only was it too small in size to comply with volleyball regulations but the Thursday games had to be moved to the old UH Hilo Gym because of Haili Church’s Maundy Thursday services, held in the Haili gym. The Hilo Armory and Piihonua Gym were added a few years later. The Civic Auditorium, capable of accommodating two games at once, was added after the USVBA National Championships were hosted in Hilo, by the Haili Men’s Club, in 1977. The new UH Hilo Gym was added as a venue in the early 1980’s. The Waiakea High Gym was added in the late 1980’s and Kawananakoa Center was added in 2003. The Boy’s and Girl’s Club of Hilo and Andrews Gym have even been tapped for excess games during years of heavy participation.
Each year the tournament committee selects a person who has contributed to the tournament or to volleyball over the years. Some past honorees have been Richard “Longey” Okamoto, Tom Haine, Fred and Carolyn Hiapo, Elroy Osorio, Raymond Rowe, Luella Aina and Sally Kaleohano and Tommy Lindsey, one of the founders of the Tournament and long time President of the Haili Men’s Club.
Sisters Lyndell Lindsey and Sweetie Osorio along with other family and friends have been organizing this tournament for many years and are looking forward to leading the Tournament into its second 50 years.