HPU softball poses together with various depictions of senior Hoku Ching after Senior Day & the final competition at Howard A. Okita Field was called off due to inclement weather. | Photo Credit: Ku’ulei Agbayani, HSRN

HPU bids “aloha” to Howard A. Okita Field, Ching in bittersweet day

BY PAUL BRECHT | HONOLULU
PUBLISHED APR 28, 2024

KĀNE’OHE How can you possibly say goodbye to more than 30 years’ worth of history correctly? Is there a way? 

Saturday marked a poignant, emotional day for Hawai’i Pacific University’s softball team – the final day that the historic Howard A. Okita Field (which opened in 1993) would serve as the home diamond for the Sharks’ softball program as the team prepared to host Chaminade for Senior Day. 

“It’s a bittersweet moment to walk away from the place that we are all so very fortunate to have played on,” HPU head coach Jarnett “Shorty” Lono said after the games were called off due to inclement weather. “We would have loved to have seen competition here … to put the final nail in the coffin, turn the page and move on in the chapters I think, yeah, it’s a bittersweet moment for all of us.” 

Among the memories “Shorty” recollected were the fallen tree fiasco of 2023 and the “sponging” of the field that honored Coach Howard Okita in a sense that she said just provided another representation of the character of a team that has taken no excuse and worked through multiple years of poor circumstances out of their own control. 

The Silverswords were a perfect final opponent for HPU’s finale from the old Hawaii Loa campus field that served as the canvas for years of memories in Sharks’ lore. Chaminade used the field as a home base for two seasons as well, so Saturday gave both Oahu programs an opportunity to say goodbye. 

“Chaminade was fortunate enough to call this place home two years in a row as well, so it meant something to those girls as well,” Lono shared, continuing the emphasis on the field’s meaning to softball in the islands. 

The cancellation of the game did not stop the Sharks from honoring their lone senior in Hoku Ching, a four-year local product from the OIA’s Roosevelt Rough Riders, with a celebration for her impactful career in black, blue and white. 

“We want to see the public-school kids who are from Hawai’i excel and exceed at the next level,” Lono said of her fellow Roosevelt alum. “[Hoku] is a great story. Out of high school, she wasn’t a kid that any school was going to pick up, so she basically gave up on playing softball. We heard she was on campus, we invited her [to tryout], she came and four years later she walks away from having an amazing experience as an HPU Shark.” 

Ching became a mainstay in the HPU lineup since her arrival in 2021, appearing in 156 games across four seasons for the Sharks – including 137 starts in the 138 games HPU has played over the past three years – while tallying 81 hits and providing elite defense in center field. She is finishing a degree in biology. 

While the Sharks’ record was below par in results this season, the program’s culture and team identity never shattered through trying times.  

“To see what the record is on paper doesn’t fulfill what we have actually done. Yes, scholarships, budgets, all of those things continue to go on the decline but still, you’ve got to sport a team of athletes who are going to compete. These girls, they came in every day, they worked their butts off. They love the system, they love the culture, they love the program, and they gave it all they could. [There are] a few games here or there that I thought we should have won, but that’s neither here nor there now,” Lono genuinely expressed in support of her team’s efforts this year.  

Nine losses came by one run for HPU, who returns a majority of the roster looking to return the program to great heights. Led by Pearl City duo Tiari Hernandez and Jewel Larson, six juniors will step into the role of high place on the totem pole as seniors while various underclassmen will be looked upon for some rapid development. 

“We’ve got a great, solid core coming back next year. It’s going to be fun,” Lono shared. “Just the excitement of this junior class, they’re looking forward to get us back to the prominence of [being] the PacWest leader.”  

Just as always, Lono finished the day honoring those who came before in the softball community that continue to support to this day and helped pave the way. 

“We love you; we thank you,” the longtime Sharks’ figure said, voicing her appreciation. “Without you folks [and] your support all these years – the families, an ohana and all the things that we stand for, without ANY of you folks, [playing] wouldn’t be possible for this team and teams that are going to come out. It really is a family affair, we appreciate everybody… Mahalo.”