HILO, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Big Island football team's trip to the national tournament is in jeopardy because of missing travel funds. As authorities investigate, the players' families are scrambling to come up with about $100,000 to get to Florida in less than three weeks. Panaewa Alii players captured their division's regional championship on Saturday, marking the first time a Big Island team has qualified for the Pop Warner Super Bowl.
"It was the best feeling I ever had in my life," said player Ethanjames Ramos. "It feels amazing. It's just a gift."
"I feel honored to be able to be on the this team and get to travel up there," said Gehrig Octavio.
But the money that was supposed to pay for the trip is gone. Each team in the league set aside money in case travel funds were ever needed for the national tournament. The Big Island Pop Warner Football Conference (BIPWFC) discovered that the bank account was empty early last year.
"We had a treasurer, a previous treasurer, who we eventually voted out and some money was stolen," said current BIPWFC president William "Bo" Waite.
"The detectives were able to trace all of the withdrawals was done by her," said past BIPWFC president Charles Nahale. "She was forging my signatures on the checks and withdrawing it."
League officials said the travel fund should have contained about $90,000. Nahale believes that more than $10,000 from a separate league account was also stolen.
"Records weren't accurate at all, and that's what prolonged this investigation because we didn't have very good record-keeping," explained Waite.
After a forgery investigation by police, the case is now being reviewed by the prosecutor's office. No arrests have been made and no charges have been filed.
"I felt it was disgusting that somebody would do that to children," said team mom Kaohinani Miyashiro. "Some of these boys, they'll never make it to the mainland again, just lower socioeconomic status."
Miyashiro said they've collected roughly $10,000 through fundraisers this year, but to send the boys, coaches, chaperones and others to the Super Bowl, team leaders estimate they still need $100,000.
"All that money was for us to go to Florida and all that hard work that we did is pretty much for nothing," said player Cody Alvaro-Thomas.
Donations can be made at any Bank of Hawaii branch to "Friends of Panaewa Alii Football."