Signs Of Success For Pono Tokioka

Pono Tokioka studies at a putt at the 2009 Hawaii Junior Golf Association match play championship at Kaanapali, Maui

Golf is hard even when you’ve got all the physical tools necessary to play the game. Take it from me and my fellow hackers: A round without losing a few balls is something we can only see in our dreams. When it comes to actually getting on the course, it’s a nightmare most of the time, sprinkled in with a golden-nugget-ofa-shot once in a rare rain-bow’s presence.

But that lack of great shots on the course is exactly why I love the game. It’s almost like getting to eat Spam musubi all time, but when your favorite uncle or auntie comes into town, they treat you to a steak dinner with all the fixings.

It’s these rare victories that keep me coming back for more, especially when I know there are others who play golf without all the physical tools at their disposal.

I’m talking about Lihue’s Pono Tokioka. Ever since I first met him, I’ve gained quite an appreciation for life.

You see, he was born deaf, and this presented a huge challenge for him and his family. But that didn’t stop them from encouraging him to participate in sports.

Playing on the diamond would become his first adventure. With his father, Jimmy, helping him out by giving him instructions in sign language, Pono shone both on and off the field. He would make all-star teams and prove that, despite his hearing impairment, nothing would stand in his way, not even the powerful PONY Baseball/Softball organization.

In the summer of 2005 during an all-star game in Hilo, Jimmy was kicked out of his son’s dugout because PONY rules didn’t allow sign language interpreters in addition to the maximum three coaches per team.

The Tokioka family was utterly dismayed at the way they were treated. They felt that if Pono was being discriminated against, there were many others out there who were being unfairly singled out as well.

They asked PONY for a rule change and an apology. A year later, they would have only one of those requests granted. Their challenge paved the way for a rule change that now allows and provides sign language interpreters for deaf or hard-of-hearing players during games.

Now a 15-year-old incoming sophomore at Kauai High School, Pono has moved on to another “swinging” sport to play. And just as in baseball, he’s already enjoying some early success at golf.

In his first year on the high school scene, Pono wrapped up the best score on the island, earning a shot to play in the state high school tournament at Turtle Bay on Oahu.

Just last week in his first-ever Manoa Cup tournament, he passed the first test and qualified for the event with a nice round of 77. Plus, that was only his second time playing the hilly Oahu Country Club course.

I’ve played there a couple of times and it’s no slouch. The greens are as slippery as the nearshore rocks at Napali Coast.

As it turns out, Pono’s first run in the Manoa Cup would be cut short, thanks in part to fellow Kauai golfer and former Manoa Cup champ Jonathan Ota.

This week, Pono’s busy summer golf schedule winds down with an Aloha Section PGA Junior Golf tournament.

Already one of the top golfers for his age, Pono, along with his family, sees a bright future ahead of him.

“Everything is visual for him,” Jimmy says. “It may take him longer to learn, but he gets it and that’s the main thing.”

He’s certainly getting it, all right, and what makes it really special is that he does it with one fewer sense than others.

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