I got into a discussion the other day about the University of Hawaii football team’s nickname. The other person in the discussion was positive, he said, that the Hawaii teams were all called “the Warriors” and that it had been that way for several decades. I disagreed. I repeated what I had read some time back, that each of the individual teams from the University of Hawaii had been allowed to choose their own mascot. The baseball team called itself the “Rainbows”, the football team went with “Warriors”, the basketball team chose “Rainbow Warriors”, and the women’s teams were either called the “Wahine” or “Rainbow Wahine”. “Wahine”, by the way, according to the dictionary, means either “Polynesian wife” or “female surfer”. But during my first visit to the islands, I was told it simply meant “girl” in the Hawaiian language.
In that discussion, it turns out, neither one of us was exactly correct. He was correct about “Warriors”, in that the football team called itself exclusively the Warriors from 2000 to 2013. I was right about the other names, but it had escaped both of our attentions that the school’s president declared in 2013 that every team from now on would be known as the “Rainbow Warriors”.
That information made me wonder which name was the original. In the beginning of University of Hawaii sports, what did they call themselves? The answer goes back to 1909, and it’s not Rainbows, Warriors or Rainbow Warriors. In 1909, a full fifty years before Hawaii became a state, newspapers reported that the College of Hawaii had played its first official football game, even though the game was against the team from McKinley High School. In 1909, of course, it wasn’t nearly as easy as it is now for a team to travel from Hawaii to the mainland, and since there was only one college operating in Hawaii, they were forced to play only teams from high schools or military bases.
Anyway, the score of that first game was reported as “College of Hawaii Fighting Deans 95, McKinley High School Tigers 5. In 1909, by the way, touchdowns were five points each.
The College of Hawaii became the University of Hawaii in 1920, and that year they played their first intercollegiate game, losing 14-0 to Nevada-Reno on Christmas Day. This was several years before most bowl games began, and the Nevada-Reno powers that be decided a trip to Hawaii was a great reward for the team’s 1920 season.
In 1923, Hawaii upset Oregon State 7-0 at Moi-li-i-li Field. As the game ended, a rainbow appeared over the stadium. This was not unusual for Hawaii, which is known for its rainbows, but since it happened in the final seconds of a big win, reporters and others began calling the teams the Rainbows.
It wasn’t until 1974 that the University of Hawaii teams joined Division one of the NCAA. And for a short time they were known as the Bows before changing to the Rainbow Warriors, which they are once again today.
As a side note, for years there have been citizens in Hawaii who want to change the name of the team to “the Menehune” in honor of an old Hawaiian legend. But no athletic director or football coach has ever agreed to the name. The reason? Menehune are mythical tiny creatures that live in the forests and jungles of Hawaii. And no football official wants his team to be both small and imaginary.