Islanders, football and cheer
By MARIE THOMAS McNAUGHTON / Cotati Correspondent
When Doug, Joyce, Sam, Amber and Sheri Poueu and friends formed the Warriors youth football and cheer club in 2007, they did it in the spirit of Samoan patriarch Poueu Peleti.
He started the family that has now grown to more than 200, many of them living Rohnert Park, and taught them the traditional Pacific Islander values of “faith, family and fellowship.”
“Everything we do falls under one of those core concepts, including football and cheer,” said granddaughter Tracey Poueu-Guerrero, 40.
As they gather on Saturday to raise money for the Warriors, they invite people of all nationalities to join them at the Pacific Islander Festival in Rohnert Park’s City Center Plaza.
In previous years, the group held a luau to raise money, which “usually meant the children’s parents bought tickets and the event remained relatively private,” noted fund-raising chair Raquel Kilmartin.
“This way a wide spectrum of people will be able to enjoy Pacific culture. There are many amazing people bringing the Islands to you.”
Many of them trace their roots back to Poueu Peleti.
He was raised traditionally on Samoa as an only child adopted into a Tokelauan (New Zealand) family, then grew up to become a Navy cargo ship captain and a Christian preacher whose ministry emphasized musical prayer and dance.
He married a fellow Islander, Matasaua Maiava Peleti, and began a family, but was widowed with 14 children in 1954. He married his second wife Siolo Palelei Peleti, a fellow musician, in 1959.
The family moved to San Diego, to South San Francisco in 1966 and then to Rohnert Park in 1970, growing all the time through births and adoptions.
Poueu established a small Methodist congregation behind the now-razed Southwest Boulevard Fire Station. He died in 1992.
By the time Siolo Peleti died in 2004, the family consisted of 26 children, 76 grandchildren, 99 great-grandchildren and 1 great-great grandchild in San Diego, South San Francisco and Sonoma County.
Through marriages within and outside the Pacific Islander community, a substantial bloc of traditionally minded friends and relations had formed.
“We’re all over Rohnert Park and Cotati,” noted Tracey Poueu-Guerrero, “M section, S, D, C, L and Santa Rosa, now, too.”
She is president of the Rohnert Park Cotati Youth Football and Cheer, also known as the Warriors, and has nurtured the nonprofit since 2007 as a family-oriented, child-centered sports program for children ages 5-15.
“We have 100 families involved in cheer and another 150-200 families in football in any given year,” said Poueu-Guerrero, who also coaches her daughters’ softball teams.
“The kids are the focal point,” she said. “We started organizing the Warriors because of a longing for a family atmosphere in sports.”
In Samoa, for example, family members are not out at night pursuing their separate interests. “They are at home, singing and praying and being together,” she said.
For them, local sports had become less about character and community building than forming teams set on winning.
So, in 2007, Tracey and her husband Dannie Guerrero, members of her family and friends formed a new nonprofit sports organization dedicated to “responsibility, hard work, sportsmanship, respect, teamwork and commitment.”
They joined North Bay Youth Football and Cheer and advertised for families interested in forming Mitey Mite, Junior Pee Wee, Pee Wee, Junior Midget and Midget categories (according to weight and age).
Kids would compete, adults would coach and chauffeur. Locals of all ethnicities would form an inclusive all-age community in the fashion of Pacific Island culture, dedicated to leadership in school, on the field and in the community at large.
“When we decided in 2006 to start the Warriors, we really didn’t know how many other people were interested in what we had in mind,” said Antoinette Kuka, Poueu-Guerrero’s cousin, current cheer director and head coach.
“We fielded a lot of phone calls and scheduled our first public meeting at the Rancho Cotate (high school) gym in 2007,” said Poueu-Guerrero.
“I remember standing in an empty gym, wondering if anyone would come,” said Kuka. “We had faith that there was a need for our kind of program, but no idea who would join us.
“We watched as groups and families slowly arrived, took their seats and filled the gym.”
The Warriors now fields football and cheer teams July-October in all five age-and-weight groups and has accrued a variety of championships on local, regional and national levels.
Football players have gone on to make the Rancho Cotate Cougars, a gridiron powerhouse.
Elite Cheer was added in 2011 for sophomore, junior and senior girls who had aged out of the primary program and wanted to continue competing together, rather than against each other at various schools.
“It is our tradition at the beginning of each season for all the Warriors to meet and pray together,” noted Poueu-Guerrero.
“This program is in God’s hands, and every year we place it there again in faith that it will continue to keep families together and inspire leadership in our children.”
Rohnert Park’s second annual Pacific Islander Festival is 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday, July 28 at Rohnert Park’s City Center Plaza. The celebration of Polynesian and other Pacific cultures has been organized by the Rohnert Park Warriors Youth Football and Cheer to benefit its programs for youths 5 to 15 and their families.
Hawaiian recording artist Faith Ako is the featured performer, along with the First Samoan Congregational Church choir and Taimalietane Islands of Polynesia dance troupe. Between sets, DJ Dennis Anderson will spin Polynesian music.
Kids’ activities include Keiki Korner, Island arts and crafts, lei making, dancing and a jump house. Vendors will offer teriyaki beef and chicken bowls, Kalua pig, Samoan pagipopo, panikeke, chop sui, lupulu with rice, Hawaiian grinds and soda, pancit, lumpia, adobo, shave ice and Spam musubi.
For more information, visit rpwarriors.org.