For the young men and women athletes competing on University of Hawaiʻi courts, play stops when the whistle blows. Side out or timeout, the hard, shrill screech of the referee’s whistle brings action to a halt, and then another team in green and white leaps into action.
The anonymous units of pre-teens sprint after volleyballs spanked out of bounds or hustle out from under basketball hoops to wipe up wet spots at Stan Sheriff Center and chase down errant passes at Wahine soccer matches in Waipiʻo.
They are the ball boys and ball girls of UH Mānoa sports, and they are vital.
At men’s and women’s volleyball games, the ball girl brigade literally keeps the ball rolling—chasing balls struck out of bounds, keeping the floor dry for the athletes and rolling out freshly dried volleyballs to the service lines. (A fresh ball is required after each play during the match.)
Basketball duties are similar; the volunteer crew of ball boys and girls retrieves errant balls and swabs the floor to keep the players safe from slipping.
Soccer duty requires a lot more stamina. The ball girls must cover the spacious sidelines of Waipiʻo Peninsula Soccer Stadium, more than 100 yards in length. Conscious of the running clock, they work in chain gang fashion to assure that a player looking for a ball to inbound has one near at hand.
“The ball boys benefit our program, taking care of our players safety and warm-ups during pre-game and floor safety during the game,” says former player and current UH Basketball Director of Operations Tim Shepherd. “They also keep our program connected to the community.”
“It’s the program’s way of giving back,” says former Assistant Soccer Coach Derick Kato, who lined up club teams for ball girl duty for six years. “We involved girls from all the different youth leagues from all parts of the island.” Girls received posters and sometimes stood with players under the stadium lights for the national anthem and Hawaiʻi Ponoʻi.
“It’s a lot of fun,” affirms ball girl Kristen Yokoyama, a 9-year-old member of the Honolulu Bulls soccer club. “I like running to get the ball. I got to meet all the players and they were really nice to us. I’d like to do it again.”
The young athletes also get an up-close view of what it takes to compete at the major college level. “For these girls, UH soccer is the highest level of play here, and they really look up to the Wahine players,” Kato says. “A lot of the ball girls got awestruck. I think it really gave them something to aspire to.”
Some even make the journey from ball kid to superstar, like former Rainbow Warrior basketball standout Bobby Nash and Wahine volleyball great Kanoe Kamanao.
“Being on the same court as the athletes I looked up to was a great experience,” Kamanao says. “To go from working as a ball girl, wiping the floors for people like Robyn Ah Mow, to becoming a Wahine player myself was a dream come true.”