Thursday, September 22, 2011

Luau builds Bandon brotherhood -Bandon football coach Silia Polamalu


Bandon football coach Silia Polamalu, left, and his brother, Tafea, join several players in uncovering a pig Saturday evening after it was cooked for about 16 hours in a pit outside the Harbor Lights gymnasium. World Photo by John Gunther.

BANDON -- In sports, a football team is like a family. In Polynesian culture, a community is the same way.

Bandon football coach Silia Polamalu wanted to share his Samoan heritage with his team, and saw a luau as the perfect way to do that -- and bring in some money for the football program at the same time.

So late Friday night, the Bandon football players joined Polamalu and some of his family members in digging a pit and preparing a fire to cook a pig in the traditional Samoan way. And Saturday evening they excavated the pig and shared it with more than 200 community members in the first of what Polamalu hopes will be many Bandon luaus.

The dinner guests feasted on the 220-pound pig, provided by the family of player Michael Arriola, and also on side dishes prepared by the other football families. Then they were entertained by a Polynesian dance group from Medford, which performed dances from several islands, ranging from the Cook Islands and New Zealand to Samoa and Hawaii.

Polamalu was thrilled with the turnout for his first luau in his new community.

'I think $30 is a pretty good deal for a meal and a show like this," he said.

But raising funds was only part of the goal for the event.

'I think it's great," said senior Tyler Jacobo, one of the emotional leaders for the Tigers. 'We're making a profit and having fun with the community."

More important, he said, was all the football players getting together Friday night, preparing the cooking pit, then taking turns tending the fire and watching the pig -- he estimated most of the group only got about one hour of sleep.

'From having the team stay the whole night, it's a huge bonding experience," Jacobo said. 'It's about us growing as a team and becoming a brotherhood. That's really important."

In less than a week, the Tigers begin fall football practice, but already more than 20 players have regularly been showing up for voluntary summer workouts -- more than double the amount who took part last year.

The football players learned the traditions first-hand from Polamalu and his family and then their coach shared them with the community, starting with his young daughters, Sialafua and Taeleese joining him in blowing on conch shells to get the attention of the audience.

'The conch shell is something in the islands that would mark the beginning of a ceremony -- to announce to the people that something exciting is going on," he said.

That excitement started with excavating the pig as the dinner guests watched.

Polamalu got the idea for having the luau in part from his brother Joe, the head football coach at Douglas High School, who has been doing the same thing there for several years.

'I think the people enjoy it," Joe Polamalu said. 'It's a good gathering from the locals."

Silia and Joe grew up in the Roseburg area along with brother Tafea and cousin Troy -- the most famous football player in the clan -- learning the tradition from their dad, Salu.

Salu, Joe and Tafea Polamalu all were in Bandon for the weekend to help Silia with his first luau.

'Polynesian culture is very communal," Silia said. 'Family is big and tight. When one of us is doing this, we all help out."

Salu Polamalu said his is proud to see his sons continuing the tradition he learned as a boy in Samoa.

'I'm very excited for him to show the kids," he said. 'This is something they will never forget."

Sports Editor John Gunther can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 241, or at

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