Honolulu Stadium:
Where Hawaii Played

by Arthur Suehiro with text by George Engebretson
1995, Watermark Publishing

Above: Herman Wedemeyer in 1995.
Below: Herman Wedemeyer, triple threat for St. Louis High School, early 1940s.


Webmaster's note: Honolulu Stadium is a beautiful "coffee table" style book with gorgeous photos and interesting text about the colorful history of one of the great old American ballparks. No landmark reflected the local culture of Hawaii in "da old days" quite like the beloved Termite Palace. Whether your interest is sport or Hawaiiana, you will love this book. It is available at bookstores in Honolulu, or you may order it directly from author Arthur Suehiro at arts@aloha.net.


The following is an excerpt from the chapter "Football Fever":

A gridiron star at St. Louis High School and an All-American at St. Mary’s College in California, Herman Wedemeyer played pro football for the Los Angeles Dons and the Baltimore Colts, as well as professional baseball for the San Francisco Seals (now the Giants). He later served with Hawaiian Airlines and on the Honolulu City Council and State House of Representatives and is vice president of public relations and promotions for the Toyota Auto Division of Servco Pacific. Wedemeyer also played the featured role of Duke on "Hawaii Five-O."

My family moved to Honolulu from the Big Island, where I was born, when I was five. Kalihi Uka Park was our front yard. There were nine kids in the family. I’m the oldest and my brother Charlie the youngest. Our father was quite an athlete and played in the Hawaii Senior Baseball League for the Wanderers and the Hawaiians. Sports ran high in our family.

I was offered a baseball scholarship at St. Louis where coach Charlie "Fat" Fernandez and Francis Funai took us to championships. In football John McColgan was our head coach, assisted by Sam Kapu and the Joy brothers, Barney and Biggy, who handled the line. Hiram Kaakua, the "Black Grange," and Tony Morse, who were legends in their time, coached the backfield. Needless to say, we did well.

As a youngster, I idolized our local players—Joe Kaulukukui, Nolle Smith, John Olmos, John Gomard. I attended Roosevelt when these players won the 1939 ILH [Interscholastic League of Honolulu] championship. I adapted my own running style from the high stepping of Nolle, the deceptive, silky-smooth moves of Joe Kaulukukui, and a combination of both Johns. To enhance my running I played without the cumbersome hip pads and just taped pieces of sponges to my hips—less weight and not as binding.

I was lucky, I guess. One of the things I was able to do was make quick decisions on the field. I recall one game against McKinley where they punted and one of their players grounded the ball, then tossed it to an official, who turned away and let it bounce around loose. The whistle hadn’t blown and it was still a live ball, so I picked it up and returned it like a frightened rabbit to their five-yard line. We scored a TD on the next play. I still tingle with excitement thinking about those times—like getting caught by a quick kick that sailed over my head. I retrieved the ball only to find 11 guys coming at me. So I kicked it back—which I’d learned from Kaakua—to their ten-yard line. Then we intercepted their pass on the next play for a TD. Of course, possession of the ball is today’s style of play; you don’t see a kick-off of a kick anymore. But it made for exciting football and that’s what we were: entertainers ready to put on a show at the snap of a ball.

Honolulu Stadium was always at capacity on football season weekends. Just picture the fans arriving in open streetcars hanging on to the rails because there were no more seats. Going home was the same scene.

High school games were colorful. The Stadium had it and saw it all: tears and laughter, winners and losers. Perspiration-uniformed warriors decked with fragrant leis, their faces bloodied and their shins skinned, embraced by both friends and foes.

Honolulu Stadium—it was another day, another time.

***

Below: Program for induction into the College Football Hall of Fame, 1979.

It was during World War II that high school football really came into its own as the town’s biggest crowd-pleaser. With many UH [University of Hawaii] players marching off to war, an 11th-hour Stadium win over Willamette—on December 6, 1941—marked the end of Rainbow football until after V-J Day. It fell to the ILH, then, to fill the gap. This was accomplished with a host of talented players, most notably St. Louis triple-threat Herman Wedemeyer. After his Stadium years, Wedemeyer went on to St. Mary’s College in California, earning All-American honors alongside Army’s Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard. Named the country’s Best College Back of ’46 by sportswriting guru Grantland Rice, Wedemeyer is still considered one of the best (the best, many say) football players in Hawaii football history.

Click here for Charlie Wedemeyer's memories of Honolulu Stadium.

Click here to see Al Harrington celebrating a victory in Honolulu Stadium.

   
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