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Road Opener Is Dream Come True for Banning

When Banning High football Coach Joe Dominguez informed school officials last winter that the Pilots wanted to play a game in Hawaii, administrators were all for it.

There was only one catch: Banning could not contribute a penny.

In the financially strapped Los Angeles Unified School District, where teacher layoffs and cutbacks are the rule of the day, a football junket to Hawaii is hardly considered an educational necessity.

No problem. Confident his team could raise the required money--between $30,000 and $35,000--Dominguez went ahead and signed a contract to open the 1991 season against Kahuku High in Honolulu’s Aloha Stadium.

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“We wanted to try something that was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Dominguez said. “We knew the community would be behind us.”

After six months of intense fund-raising, Banning will realize its dream Wednesday, when a 60-man contingent--50 players and 10 coaches, managers and administrators--departs from Los Angeles International Airport for a five-day, four-night stay on the island of Oahu. Banning is believed to be the first City school to play a football game in Hawaii.

The Pilots, last season’s L.A. City 4-A Division runners-up, will play a traditionally strong Kahuku team Sept. 7 in the Shawn Akina Memorial Classic, named after a former Hawaiian prep star who died at a young age. The contest is the second of three games that will be played that day, starting at 6 p.m. Hawaii time.

In the other games, all pitting Hawaiian high schools against schools from the mainland, Kaimuki plays Monta Vista of Cupertino at 3:30 and St. Louis of Honolulu meets Bakersfield at 8:30.

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Banning became involved in the Akina Classic by chance. After Muir High of Pasadena failed to renew its contract with the Pilots because of a scheduling conflict, Dominguez and his staff sought to fill the date with a road trip.

“We wanted to make a fun trip for the kids,” Dominguez said. "(But) we were thinking along the lines of Las Vegas or San Diego.”

The destination changed when Buzzy Preston, an assistant football coach at the University of Hawaii and a Banning graduate, paid a visit to Banning in January.

“We said, ‘Let’s play in Hawaii,’ ” Dominguez said. “We asked Buzzy who he could set us up with.”

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With that done, Banning set out to raise the necessary funds to make the trip. The Pilots sold advertising on T-shirts, which were then sold, staged a luau and raffled two trips to Hawaii. Nearing a July deadline, though, they were still a few thousand dollars short of what they needed.

Dominguez said Assistant Coach Ed Barraras contacted former Banning running back Freeman McNeil, who saved the day by wiring the team $5,000.

“Now we’re hoping to get him in uniform that same night and have him run the ball a little bit,” Dominguez joked.

The generous support of boosters and the Wilmington community has made it possible for Banning’s players to make what promises to be a memorable trip. The Pilots will also get a jump on the competition, opening the season a week earlier than most teams.

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“Every year we get one to 10 kids at Banning who are Division I football players,” Dominguez said. “They’re going to experience things like this in college. But for most of the guys, this could be the only time they get to experience something like this.

“It’s something the kids are going to remember, not just five years from now, but forever.”

Dominguez said organizers were receptive to Banning’s participating in the game because of the school’s close ties to the Samoan community in Carson and Wilmington. Kahuku, isolated in the northern part of Oahu, is predominantly a Samoan community.

“I think it will certainly help their turnout for the game,” Dominguez said.

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Kahuku’s top players are fullback Simion Vierra, a 6-foot, 220-pound senior who is the reigning Hawaiian 189-pound wrestling champion, and 6-4, 280-pound offensive lineman Chris Naeole.

Vierra, regarded as a bruising runner with deceptive speed, comes from a colorful family. His father, Wayne, was once featured on the television show “That’s Incredible” for preventing a Volkswagen from moving with his body, and his oldest brother, Wayne Jr., is a sumo wrestler in Japan.

Simion Vierra also must replace Mark Atuaia, one of Hawaii’s top prep players last season.

Atuaia set state records for rushing in a game, season and career and is a freshman at Brigham Young University, which plays Georgia Tech tonight in the Disneyland Pigskin Classic at Anaheim Stadium.

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Even with Atuaia, however, Kahuku was beaten by Crespi of Encino in last year’s Akina Classic.

Banning will miss Travis Davis, the All-City running back who is now at Notre Dame, but Dominguez said the Pilots have another talented ball carrier in Sheldon Moore, a 6-foot, 190-pound junior.

“I have to compare him to Travis Davis,” Dominguez said. “He makes the first (defender) miss him most of the time, and he can run through a tackle. I think he’s going to be the next big-name kid to come out of Banning High.”

Dominguez said Moore was unable to play varsity football most of last year because he was only 14 when the season started. Moore was brought up to the varsity for the playoffs, contributing as a backup running back and defensive back.

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“I think he may end up a two-way starter for us,” Dominguez said. “He’s had the chickenpox, but we hope to get him back late this week. We’re expecting a lot out of him.”

It should be a big year for prep quarterbacks in the South Bay. Among the returners are four seniors who passed for more than 1,000 yards last season: Jason Kendall of Torrance, Steve Sarkisian of West Torrance, Rino Marconi of San Pedro and Gary Mumin of Leuzinger.

Kendall, with 1,689 yards and 18 touchdowns passing, ranked second in the area behind Carson’s John Walsh, now at BYU.

Also returning are South Torrance’s Alan Hook, who passed for 722 yards in 1990, and Morningside’s incomparable Stais Boseman, a threat to run or pass who was named Ocean League Offensive Player of the Year as a sophomore.

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