Search Malamalama

Feb. 2004, Vol. 29 No. 1
Read more from this issue

The volleyball band spirit

Dancing director, balloon hat maker and dedicated daughter 'kick a**!'

UH Manoa Assistant Band Director Gwen Nakamura with colorful balloon head-dress

The Wahine Volleyball Team had just won the regional playoffs in December 2003 and Lily Kahumoku was running the circumference of the Stan Sheriff Arena brushing high fives with fans. When she came to the corner containing the Pep Band, she stopped, pumped both fists in the air and emphatically cheered the enthusiastic musicians who infuse the arena with energy.

"Lily is always like that." laughs Assistant Band Director Gwen Nakamura. "She says, 'You guys kick a**!'"

Members of Manoa’s marching band rotate through appearances at men’s and women’s basketball games, but the 30 or so who play at volleyball games are dedicated volunteers.

Which begs the question: What’s the deal with those hats?

For the past few years, Nakamura has appeared at volleyball games in fantastical balloon headgear that dwarfs her diminutive frame as she dances, plays the tambourine and cues the band.

Each hat is crafted in the arena before the game by Russell Hiranaga, a season ticket holder since 1995 who travels from Maui for nearly every game and has attended four "final four" tournaments. Rainbows, dogs, flowers, a watermelon, you name it and Hiranaga has made it.

He and his brother-in-law taught themselves balloon art to carry on the tradition started by some anonymous UH students. "They made balloon hats and gave them out to kids, but they stopped coming to games. I guess they graduated," Hiranaga says.

Such spirit is hereditary. A fledgling intermediate school flutist when she first accompanied her dad to the games, Angela Hiranaga found herself watching the band. She learned to play sax in part so she could be part of the volleyball band. By her junior year at Maui High School, encouraged by Band Director Kerry Wasano (BA ’96, MEd ’98 Manoa), she was determined to attend UH Manoa.

"I play at the games every chance I get. I’ve been waiting a long time to play in that band, and I enjoy every minute of it," she says. Even one-time adolescent angst about her father’s conspicuous balloon blowing has given way to admiration. "It’s super cool. I wouldn’t trade it for anything," she says.

And the fate of the hats?

Nakamura gives them to a youngster in the crowd at the conclusion of each game. Well, all except the elaborate Christmas tree complete with ornaments that she took home as a prop for her holiday picture.

Wahine Volleyball

UH Manoa band programs