Alumni Stars Bring Pride To Bi­tanga’s ‘East­si­daz Nation’

MidWeek Islander (East Oahu) - - EAST OAHU SPORTS - By JACK DANILEWICZ

Since he founded his East­si­daz girls bas­ket­ball club a decade ago, scan­ning the prep box scores in the morn­ing paper has given founder and coach Simon Bi­tanga a lot of sat­is­fac­tion.

In­deed, his list of East­si­daz alumni is im­pres­sive.

“Two years ago, a par­ent pointed out to me that there were eight teams that had an East­si­daz player on them,” Bi­tanga said.

Noth­ing pleased him more, how­ever, than when four East­si­daz teams cap­tured their di­vi­sions of the “Jam On It” Grand Fi­nale Na­tional Bas­ket­ball Tour­na­ment in Las Ve­gas in late July. East­si­daz en­tered teams in the 10-an­dun­der, 12-and-un­der and 13and-un­der di­vi­sions, as well as in the ju­nior var­sity and high school di­vi­sions. All five teams ad­vanced to the cham­pi­onship game of their re­spec­tive tour­na­ments with only the 12-an­dun­der team fin­ish­ing as run­ner-up.

“ That was the one we thought would win,” Bi­tanga joked of the 12-and-un­der team.

Bi­tanga had led the East­si­daz to a na­tional ti­tle in 2008 for 13-and-un­ders at the Vi­sion Sports Main Event Na­tional Tour­na­ment, and he was hope­ful his teams would make a good show­ing this time. He re­cently printed up T-shirts with a new slo­gan “We Came Up For More And We Brought Back Four.”

“We trav­eled with over 200 peo­ple, and it was a lot of fun,” said Bi­tanga, who also is head var­sity coach at Kaiser High. “The girls re­ally rose to the oc­ca­sion. We were out­matched as far as speed, height and size, but the girls came to play.”

Bi­tanga started East­si­daz mainly as a way to coach his daugh­ters, Keely and Mi­caela. The club has steadily grown from 10 girls in 2000 to more than 100 to­day.

“Our first class would be sopho­mores in col­lege now.”

Alumni play­ing col­lege bas­ket­ball at present are Chelsy Okuma (East­ern Ore­gon), Kel­cie Namba (North­west Chris­tian) and Jamie Higa (Cham­i­nade), among oth­ers.

“I was coach­ing JV bas­ket­ball at Kaiser at the time, and my daugh­ters were 11 and 7,” he said. “They used to come to all my prac­tices at Kaiser, but I never thought about teach­ing them bas­ket­ball. Keely had been play­ing soc­cer, but she’d had a bad ex­pe­ri­ence and she wanted to play bas­ket­ball.”

East­si­daz’s suc­cess is even more im­pres­sive con­sid­er­ing they lack a gym and prac­tice on out­door courts at a park. On the pos­i­tive side, they’ve hosted a spring league — March to July — for years at Koko Head District Park, which has gone a long way to­ward the devel­op­ment of their teams.

Like the club, East­si­daz’s spring league also has been a rous­ing suc­cess, in­creas­ing from six teams to its cur­rent count of 43.

“Oth­ers had tried to make a club and had failed,” he noted. “One had 15 girls on the first day, they then had seven on the sec­ond and four on the third day. Hav­ing over 100 girls now is a pos­i­tive. We don’t charge them, and it is word of mouth. We don’t re­ally put it out there (through ad­ver­tis­ing).”

Con­tact Jack Danilewicz at jack­ster.1969@ya­hoo.com.

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