The Liberty wrestling team gets a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to Hawaii for the Garner Ivey Maui Invitational

Most Oregon residents would probably love to take a trip to Hawaii in COURTESY PHOTO: LIBERTY HIGH SCHOOL WRESTLING - A Liberty wrestler jumps off a rock formation during the team's trip to Hawaii last month to participate in the Garner Ivey Maui Invitational.

The sand. The sun. The warm weather. All are a welcome respite from the wet and cold that come part and parcel with Oregon winters.

Last month, that trip is exactly what members of the Liberty wrestling team embarked upon, when more than two dozen wrestlers, statisticians, coaches and chaperones mixed work and play on the island of Maui for almost a week in the middle of December. Not only did the Falcons fare well in an annual invitational tournament, but they also took in the sights, experiences, culture and foods of the area.

While last month marked the first time coach Eric Givens has taken his Liberty team to Hawaii, the origins of the trip extend to Century wrestling coach Guy Takahashi and through him, the Aloha State itself.

Takahashi, who has helmed the Jaguars program since the school opened in the late 1990s, hails from Maui and came to Oregon to attend Pacific University in Forest Grove. He graduated from the island’s H.P. Baldwin High School, coached at Maui High School and still maintains a residence on the island, to which he returns every summer with his family.

“I have real close ties,” Takahashi said. “I know a lot that goes on in Maui.”

Given those connections, it is not surprising that he takes Jaguars teams back home to compete at regular intervals, with the most recent trip taking place last year.

So before Givens took over the Liberty program, during his half-dozen years as a Century assistant coach, Givens went on multiple Hawaii trips with the Century team.

The Falcons had a great time during their first journey to Maui.

“Maui’s just a wonderful place to take kids,” Givens noted. “Incredibly cordial group of people. Our kids got a tremendous amount culturally. A lot of kids said their favorite part was just practicing with the other team (Baldwin).”

Liberty did not fare too badly in competition either.

The wrestling tournament in which Liberty participated is one that Takahashi said rotates among about a half-dozen of the larger high schools in Maui. Baldwin was the host for this season’s tournament, called the Garner Ivey Maui Invitational Tournament, in which the Falcons finished sixth among about 30 teams.

Of the 10 or so Falcons competing at the varsity level, three finished as runners-up in their respective weight classes: Hunter Dehlin (152 pounds), Ethan Wendell (113) and Angel Rodriguez (285). Several other Liberty participants recorded top-five finishes.

“It was a great mix of experience where everybody got some experience, and we were winning some matches, but it wasn’t too tough and it wasn’t too easy,” Givens observed. “So it was a really nice blend for us from that standpoint.”

The tournament also gave several Falcons at the junior varsity level the chance to make the trip — not something that happens with every high school sport. Ability level was not the deciding factor on who made the trip; rather, primarily, it was those who had previously committed to fundraising.

“I felt it was really beneficial because I’m not the greatest and I still have a lot to learn,” said Dylan Frank, who competed in Hawaii as a junior JV wrestler in his second year on the team. “It was really good. It helped me out a lot in learning from my mistakes.”

And while the competition was important, it was not about just that. The team went snorkeling one day, went on an excursion to Lahaina’s boardwalk and spent some time at the beach.

“It’s not so much the style of wrestling. It’s more just experiencing other cultures, I think, and having people see that and share that,” Takahashi explained about the value of such an experience.

“When I was in high school, we always had teams stay with us. As islanders, you always want to show off your culture, your island. We’re proud of our island.”

A trip like this also creates a lot of memories that may endure for years, as well as new experiences. Givens noted that four of his wrestlers flew on a plane for the first time in going to Hawaii.

Takahashi had a similar experience when he took his team over last year. In that case, it was three brothers who all took their first plane ride together.

“I thought it was the greatest experience,” he said. “They’d never flown in a plane. Having three brothers travel together, it’s the only time they probably can do it in their life.”

Dehlin brought back some souvenirs from Maui — a couple of T-shirts, he said. He also carried back memories of getting to know his teammates better, of gazing at coral reefs and fish while snorkeling, and of all the smoothies he and some teammates made with the various fresh fruits they purchased. They had access to a blender in their condominium and concocted various edible creations made from guavas, pineapples, coconuts, strawberries, bananas and oranges.

“We pretty much bought like every fruit they had,” Dehlin said.

One day the team got to experience a warm Hawaiian rain instead of a cold Oregon one, and Givens said he had plenty of volunteers to ride in the rented convertible his wife drove on the island. (Everyone else got to ride in minivans.)

“It was pretty awesome,” Givens said about the experience.

As a trip to paradise should be.

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