Annual Celebrations welcomes new inductees


In 2013 the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame partnered with the Polynesian Cultural Center in establishing their permanent home in the PCC’s Welcome Center near the main Hukilau Marketplace entrance . . . and enshrined the inaugural class in January 2015. Another class and other honorees are now enshrined each January. 

You can read about past year inductees here:

2015 Football Hall of Fame Inductees – Blog by Mike Foley

2016 Football Hall of Fame Inductees – Blog by Mike Foley

Admission to both the gallery and the Hukilau Marketplace are free, and we encourage everyone to enjoy them.

Retired Samoan NFL players Ma‘a Tanuvasa and Jesse Sapolu co-founded the PFHOF in 2013 to honor Polynesia’s greatest players, coaches and contributors. Sapolu, who was inducted with the Class of 2015, played for Farrington High and the University of Hawaii on Oahu, before spending 15 seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, winning four Super Bowl rings in the process. Tanuvasa starred at Mililani High and the University of Hawaii, before playing primarily with the Los Angeles Rams and Denver Broncos teams.


The Class of 2017 and other honorees at the press conference . . .   before entering the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame gallery at the PCC.

 This year’s honored guests 

In kicking off the press conference in front of the PFHOF/PCC gallery, Vai Sikahema — the first Tongan to play in the National Football League (NFL), a member of the PFHOF board of directors and a class of 2016 inductee, said, “We appreciate the opportunity to come to the Polynesian Cultural Center. It is not lost on me or any of the people sitting here at the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame what a unique and choice opportunity it is for us to have this gallery here at the Polynesian Cultural Center.”

“When you think about it, one of the reasons they have allowed us to be here is because we are ‘modern warriors.’ Hopefully, we represent our cultures and our people in a way that makes you all proud.”

Later at the enshrinement program in the PCC’s Hawaiian Journey Theater, emcee Neill Everett, co-anchor of ESPN’s West Coast edition of SportsCenter, also paid tribute to both the PCC and the “warrior spirit” of Polynesian football players. “The history speaks for itself with the impact Polynesians have made in professional football,” he said, citing the following examples:

■  Laie’s own Al Lolotai (OL) as the first Samoan to play in the National Football League. “He’s in the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame.”

■  Herman Wedemeyer, Hawaiian, the first Polynesian to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. “He’s in the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame.”

■  Marcus Mariota, Samoan, the first Polynesian to win the Heisman Trophy, was named the PFHOF’s inaugural College Player of the Year for 2014 (inducted in 2015). “One day, Marcus will be in the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame,” Everett continued.

■  And the late Junior Seau was the first Polynesian to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.” He’s also a member of the inaugural PFHOF class.


 Both Sikahema and Everett recognized the Class of 2017 inductees, including:

 ■  Chris Naeole, Hawaiian, a Kahuku High graduate from nearby Kaaawa, via the University of Colorado, New Orleans Saints and Jacksonville Jaguars

 ■  Ma‘a Tanuvasa, Samoan, from Mililani High, University of Hawaii and Los Angeles Rams and Denver Broncos; and a co-founder of the PFHOF. He explained remaining to play at home at the UH was “a pretty easy choice” — so his family could go to his games.

■  Riki Ellison, the first New Zealand Māori to play in the NFL, from USC and mostly with the San Francisco 49ers. Ellison told of leaving New Zealand as a boy and after a short stint in Hawaii, grew up in Arizona where he went on to play for USC. “He was the first player to ever start as a 17-year-old freshman,” Sikahema said. Ellison’s cousin and several other Māori in the audience performed a haka in his honor during the press conference.

■  Contributor “Big John” Manumaleuna, a Samoan (represented by his brother Frank Manumaleuna) who founded Samoan Athletes in Action and worked closely with other organizations for at-risk youth in Los Angeles. Frank said his brother (who is now deceased) believed Samoan youth had great potential to use sports to get ahead.

■  Junior Ah You of Laie, a Samoan who came up through Kahuku High, Arizona State University, and primarily played the Montreal Alouettes of the Candian Football League. “One of the greatest players to ever emerge from here on the north shore,” Sikahema said.

Because Ah You, who is from Laie, was one of the original employees when the Polynesian Cultural Center opened in 1963, and he and his family currently operate a popular lunch wagon at the PCC’s Hukilau Marketplace, he is featured in another story:  Community Service and Aloha Reflects the Spirit of Inductee Junior Ah You

Others honored included:

■  2016 Polynesian Football College Player of the Year Sefo Liufau, the Samoan quarterback for the University of Colorado.

■  2016 Polynesian Football Pro Player of the Year Marcus Mariota of the Tennessee Titans. He was not able to attend due to a recent injury; his father and family were there to represent him.

■  Finally, the PFHOF presented its co-founder and inductee Jesse Sapolu with the 2017 Founder’s Award, which is “given annually to an individual who has made a profound and significant impact within the Polynesian football community.” As part of the presentation, master carver Tuione Pulotu through the generosity of Junior Ah You to recognize the creators of the Polynesian Hall of Fame also created a large Samoan tanoa or kava bowl for Sapolu.  Tuione is a Tongan who has lived in Laie since he helped build the Polynesian Cultural Center as a labor missionary in the early 1960s — .


Fans line up for an autograph session with the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame Class of 2017 and other honorees after the induction ceremony. The inductees and family members also took part in the PCC’s canoe pageant that afternoon.

In addition to honoring players, coaches and contributors, the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame also gives scholarships and other assistance this year, and inaugurated the Polynesian Bowl at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu — primarily featuring Polynesian all-star players from across the U.S. and American Samoa. This year the PFHOF granted a $2,500 scholarship to each member of the class’ alma maters, and indicated an additional $25,000 would be awarded to Polynesian students living in the “808” — a reference to Hawaii’s all-inclusive telephone area code.

Story and images by Mike Foley

mike_foleyMike Foley
, who has worked off-and-on

at the Polynesian Cultural Center since

1968,  has been a full-time freelance

writer and digital media specialist since

2002, and had a long career in marketing

communications and PR before that. He

learned to speak fluent Samoan as a

Mormon missionary before moving to Laie

in 1967 — still does, and he has traveled

extensively over the years throughout

Polynesia and other Pacific islands. Foley

is mostly retired now, but continues to

contribute to various PCC and other media.