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State Senator Michelle Kidani, left, recognized College of Education Dean Nathan Murata with a plaque and proclamation for his work on the “Friday Night Lights” program.

The Department of Kinesiology and Rehabilitation Science (KRS) in the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa College of Education (COE) has been making headlines for its “Friday Night Lights” program. State Senator Michelle Kidani recognized COE Dean Nathan Murata in July with a plaque and proclamation for his work on the program.

In its third year, with support from Matson Foundation Chairman Gary Nakamatsu, Muraoka Insurance Group and Sugarland Farms, Friday Night Lights provides interscholastic athletic participation opportunities for students with disabilities and those who are at-risk. Inspired by the 2004 film Friday Night Lights about a town that lived for football games on Friday nights, the KRS program aims to foster a similar atmosphere on the basketball court where team spirit, team pride and teamwork eclipse the focus on winning.

“When I found out about the work that Dean Nathan Murata has been doing to set up this basketball tournament, I was so blown away,” Kidani said. “For someone who is as busy as he is to still find the time to support the special-needs community in this way is nothing short of remarkable. This recognition is the least we could do to honor his work.”

Friday Night Lights game

Friday Night Lights pairs students with disabilities or those who are at-risk with their peers, benefiting participants on and off the court. The program gives these student athletes, their families and the community the opportunity to be a part something previously reserved for only high-performing athletes.

“This program was established to create equal opportunity and access to after school programs, improve quality of life through continued physical activity and promote school spirit and pride,” Murata explained. “It is our goal to offer more and more students of all abilities and their families the chance to experience the excitement and impact that come with Friday night sporting events.”

In April, local news media covered two highly competitive basketball games between students from McKinley, Moanalua, Roosevelt and Kalani high schools.

“These games have been extremely popular, with crowds filling up the gym,” Murata said. “Friday Night Lights will be expanding to include more high schools interested in engaging student athletes who are at-risk or have disabilities to represent their schools in an official athletic event.”

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