In predominantly white Provo, Utah, Timpview High is building a dynasty with a distinctly Polynesian flair
A QUARTER OF the varsity football players at Timpview ( Provo, Utah) are of Polynesian descent, which has opened coach Louis Wong up to criticism. He says some parents have accused him of favoring players from Hawaii, Tonga and Samoa because he was born in Oahu, a charge he calls "ridiculous." He also says that rivals have accused him of recruiting from the islands, even though, with the exception of one transfer, all of his Polynesian starters were either born in Utah or have been raised there since they were toddlers.
Wong, an offensive lineman on BYU's 1984 national championship team, can live with the criticisms; he sees them as by-products of the Thunderbirds' success. If Timpview (12--0) defeats 13--0 Pine View ( St. George) on Friday, it will have won three Class 4A state titles in four years, cementing its status as one of the best programs in Utah, if not the Rocky Mountain region. "I know our biggest strength is that we have great athletes, and the Polynesian kids have a lot to do with that," Wong says. "But we are successful because we run a program where no kids are singled out. We don't even pick captains."
Timpview is not the only football program in Utah benefiting from a large number of Polynesians. In the last census in 2000, there were an estimated 15,000 Pacific Islanders, fourth highest in the country, behind Hawaii, California and Washington. Many moved there after being converted by Mormon missionaries in the Pacific, starting a trend. "If one member of a family moves here, his brothers and sisters and cousins follow," says senior linebacker Dominique Moe, who moved to Utah from Oahu when he was four.
Timpview has been especially successful at fostering ethnic pride among the players while also giving them a chance to understand and appreciate their differences. Twice teams have traveled to Hawaii for games (including as recently as 2005), but a major attraction was a visit to the Polynesian Cultural Center on Oahu. Wong, 45, hosted a luau there and taught the players how to cook in an imu, a giant underground pit oven. Each spring the program holds a luau in the school's cafeteria.
Community service is also emphasized. Players regularly visit the three elementary schools within their district, meeting with kids who have been deemed most at risk. Many of those young kids are Polynesians, some of them sorely in need of role models. "We do activities with them and then later take the kids from all three schools bowling," says Viliami Halasima, a senior defensive tackle. "They look up to us, and they'll listen to us."
Opponents look up at the Thunderbirds, literally. The Timpview offensive line features four Polynesians and averages 6'1" and 270 pounds, including 6'4" junior Xavier Su'a Filo, who is being recruited by LSU, among others. With the line overpowering opponents in the Thunderbirds' spread offense, Timpview has outscored rival teams 495--85, an average margin of victory of 34.2 points.
Right in the middle of it all is senior center Jon Bushnell, the one Caucasian on the line. He's called Uncle Jon by his Polynesian teammates. Explains Moe, "In Polynesian culture you call everyone you are close to Uncle or Aunt."
That's what Wong means when he says Timpview's success is the result of more than superior talent. "We go year-round, emphasizing the team concept," Wong says. "By December we will already have our goals set and all of our community-service projects organized. No matter if a kid is a starter or a scout-team player, and no matter what his background is, everyone understands that we are successful because we work together like a family."