Warm welcome for Gold Medal RMI Team
Hundreds of friends and family members turned out at Amata Kabua International Airport Friday night (July 15, 2011) to welcome home the gold medal-winning Marshall Islands 15-and-under national basketball team.
Parents of the 12 teenage players and the three coaches organized a lively welcome that included singing by Youth to Youth in Health, flower leis and a spirited horn-honking police-escorted “rally” from the airport to the end of Rita and back to Riwut Corner Restaurant, where the group chowed down for a late night dinner.
As the team came off the plane wearing their Marshall Islands uniforms and carrying the championship trophy, it was ushered into the airport VIP Lounge, where V7AB station manager Antari Elbon was on hand, announcing the arrival live on the air to the nation. Internal Affairs Secretary Wilbur Heine welcomed the team back on behalf of Minister Norman Matthew and recognized the Marshall Islands Basketball Federation and its partnership with his ministry. Vice Speaker Alik Alik also joined the welcome for the team at the airport VIP Lounge.
Parents of the players welcomed the players into the VIP Lounge with flower leis.
Antari interviewed several of the players, including the 15-and-Under Micronesia Basketball Tournament East Division Most Valuable Player Kyle ‘Bollet’ Paul and player Mathis George. Mathis told radio listeners that the reason the RMI players brought back the gold is that they played as a team throughout the tournament. "We didn't win the tournament because of any one player," he said. "It was team all the way." He and Kyle highlighted the tough defense the team played in its six games in Pohnpei.
“Offense wins games,” said Kyle. “Defense wins championships!”
Assistant coach Alber Alik spoke for Head Coach Paul Kattil and assistant coach Robert Pinho. In playing the top team from Pohnpei — which the RMI team defeated two games to one — Alber explained that the Pohnpei team’s point guard was taller than the RMI’s center. But, he said, height was no match for the RMI’s defense and its strong running game.
The radio interviews concluded, the team proceeded out of the VIP Lounge through a balloon-decorated arch and into the parking lot, where several hundred people were waiting to greet the team. Youth to Youth in Health strummed a lively welcome home song as people snapped hundreds of photos, filmed videos, hugged the players and coaches, and congratulated them on their win.
A few minutes later, the parade to town started. Police vehicles with flashing lights and blaring sirens were at both ends of the rally of 30 or so vehicles that included players, family and fans in the backs of pickup trucks waving RMI flags, honking and cheering as people along the road came out of houses, churches and stores to wave and cheer the team as it drove by.
The rally ended at about 10pm at Riwut Corner Restaurant for a parent-sponsored dinner for the team, family and fans.