The Long Game

President Mike Latham ’86

Punahou athletics has achieved a stunning record of competitive excellence. Last year, the scholastic sports website MaxPreps named Punahou the top United States high school athletics program of the past two decades. During that time, the Buff and Blue won an astonishing 215 state championships across 27 different sports. In a beautiful feature story produced for the Tokyo Games, NBC Sports marveled that more than 30 Punahou student-athletes have competed in the Olympics, with an alum on every summer U.S. Olympic team since 1972. Closer to home, our local sports pages are filled with stories of Punahou teams and athletes, from the seniors receiving NCAA scholarships to the triumphs of alumni like NFL rookie Andrei Iosivas ’18, world surfing champion Carissa Moore ’10, and U.S. Open winner Allisen Corpuz ’16.

Winning is exciting, of course, and we celebrate those achievements. But the true purpose of our athletics program runs deeper. Beyond all the trophies, we are committed to athletics as a fundamental element of our school’s overall approach to social and emotional learning and growth. Athletic training and competition lead to greater overall health and fitness, but when our students head out to our courts, fields, pool, and track they are also developing lifelong friendships. Through sports they come to build capacities for teamwork, discipline, and leadership that spill over into the rest of their lives. They learn how to manage their time, energy, and resources to be at their very best when it counts the most, and they get plenty of practice in overcoming adversity and challenges. Those outcomes are far more important than the win-loss record alone, and they are powerful ways in which our students learn lessons that serve them well for the rest of their lives. Like music, arts, theatre or dance, athletics is also the place in which many of our students find a profound sense of belonging that enables them to thrive in and out of school. These are the deeper reasons why we are so proud that nearly two-thirds of our students in grades 7 – 12 participate in our competitive sports.

Athletics was certainly an integral part of my own Punahou education. I competed in cross country and track and was fortunate enough to help our teams win several ILH titles and two state championships. I vividly recall the jubilant November morning our team won the state cross country meet on a rain-soaked course in Līhu‘e during my senior year. I have wonderful memories of meeting Punahou Olympian Henry Marsh ’72, after winning a 3200-meter race during a track meet at Alexander Field. 

Looking back, however, what I value most are the experiences through which I grew and matured, not the competitive results. I recall long runs deep into Mānoa Valley, telling jokes with close friends and learning to model the disciplined approach to training and to life embodied so clearly by coaches Ralph Dykes and Michael Georgi. 

I remember searing interval workouts where we discovered a capacity to dig deeper than we thought possible, and realized we were much tougher and stronger than we ever imagined. I remember Ford King, a beloved volunteer coach, consoling me with the gentle compassion of a father after I was devastated by collapsing in a track race. I smile every time I reflect on a track trip to Hawai‘i Island in 1984, when our coaches drove us up the slopes of Maunakea and we watched together in silent awe as Maunaloa erupted at night, fingers of lava casting a red glow across the clouds above us. I enjoyed competing in cross country and track in college as well, but it was at Punahou that athletics played a pivotal role in shaping the person I became, and I will always be grateful for that. 

President Latham says athletics played a pivotal role in shaping him as an individual. He developed lifelong friendships and enjoys many vivid memories, like the time when the Punahou cross country team won a state title, during his stint as co-captain, along with classmate Ken May ’86, third from right.

Many of our alumni have similar experiences, and they don’t happen by accident. To ensure that our philosophy comes first, our Athletic Department works hard to train our coaches as educators, so that their work aligns directly with our school’s core mission. Well beyond the knowledge of their own sports, our coaches must also learn to support the social and emotional growth of student-athletes, explain the real purpose of competition to our parents, and build safe, healthy, and supportive cultures. Winning, in that respect, should be an outcome that flows from our deeper goals, not a distraction from them or a barrier to them. Attaining that standard is not always easy. Like any athlete, we must be willing to look at ourselves in the mirror and reflect on the points at which we haven’t fully met our own goals. The imperatives of student safety, injury prevention, and the need to teach students to win with grace and lose with humility require that we commit ourselves to constant improvement. Trying to create more opportunities for student participation is also a challenge given the competitive nature of team selection and the constraints we face in supporting over 140 teams during three seasons with our facilities in nearly constant use.  

In my time as president, however, I have seen an athletic program striving for the kind of excellence we are most proud of. At this year’s Flaming “P” ceremony, thousands of students, parents, and families came to celebrate Punahou athletics. As the evening wound down, after kids’ games, chili dinners, marching band and dance team performances, and finally the lighting of the “P”, what remained was a profound and enduring sense of community. I believe that the stories in this issue, and the deeper values that they reflect, help explain why.

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