Trevor Crabb

Punahou School
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Punahou, Barack Obama’s school, produced Olympic talent in 4 sports

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Some high schools have a swimming tradition. Others produce great ice hockey or water polo players. The Punahou School in Honolulu, private and K-12, is best known for a student who also played basketball — its most famous graduate, Barack Obama.

Also this: Dating to Obama’s tenure in 1976, at least one Punahou student went on to make the last 11 U.S. Summer Olympic teams.

And with the addition of skateboarding and surfing to the Olympic program, there are former Punahou students among the best in the country in four different Olympic sports, plus another Paralympic sport.

“One of my favorite things about going to Punahou was that I felt like I was surrounded by a lot of excellence,” said Carissa Moore, the reigning world champion in surfing and a Punahou grad. “A lot of my friends are some of the smartest girls, women. … The whole school, everyone is doing something.”

Moore, 27, qualified for the U.S. Olympic team with her fourth world title last year. Heimana Reynolds is the reigning world champ in park skateboarding.

Brothers Taylor and Trevor Crabb are on different beach volleyball teams ranked among the top three in the country. Erik Shoji is a veteran libero and Micah Ma’a a promising setter and outside hitter for the U.S. indoor volleyball team.

Shelby Baron is a Rio Paralympic wheelchair tennis player who is now ranked third in the country.

It’s possible that they could all qualify for the Tokyo Games, which have been postponed to summer 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Punahou, whose name means “the New Spring,” referencing renewal and a spring at the center of the campus, bills itself as the largest single-campus independent school in the U.S. and reportedly the oldest west of the Mississippi.

It was founded in 1841 with a first class of 15 students who were children of congregational missionaries. Now, it has more than 3,700. Annual tuition is $26,000, though there are financial aid options.

“This used to be an elite school, you know. Mostly rich. Predominantly Caucasian,” said Eric Kusunoki, who was Obama’s homeroom teacher for four years as part of his four decades working at Punahou. “But then when I stepped foot here, I said, wow, you know, it’s so diverse. Hawaii’s golden people, you know.

“It’s [a] very cosmopolitan campus and very reflective of what Hawaii is like.”

The school has been compared to Stanford. Sports Illustrated ranked it the No. 1 high school athletic program in 2008, replete with an eight-page magazine spread, and again in 2009. The magazine deemed it a “76-acre citadel of academic and athletic excellence where Aristotle meets Duke Kahanamoku.”

Kahanamoku, the Olympic swimming champion and surfing pioneer, never attended Punahou.

But several famous athletes are among the alumni. Like Michelle Wie, Manti Te’o and Obama, who played one season of varsity basketball on the Buff n’ Blue’s 1979 state title team.

In fact, Obama wrote in his autobiography that the lure of Punahou helped keep him in the States with his grandparents rather than flying back to Indonesia with his mom.

Obama, needing a financial aid scholarship to attend, toured the campus with his grandfather before the fifth grade. “Gramps grabbed me by the arm. ‘Hell, Bar,’ he whispered, ‘this isn’t a school. This is heaven,’” Obama wrote.

“He wasn’t a big standout,” Kusunoki said of the student they called Barry. “But yet everybody knew him. He was well-liked, well-known, but he did it real subtly.”

Others followed Obama with athletic success. Reynolds was a skateboard prodigy, profiled by the local NBC affiliate as a 10-year-old before leaving Punahou after 10th grade. He switched to online classes to accommodate all his traveling for competition.

Skateboarding and surfing are not sanctioned high school sports in Hawaii. Moore still won a record 11 National Scholastic Surfing Association titles. In her spare time, she was such a convincing tour guide for prospective Punahou students that admissions officers called her “The Closer,” according to SI.

“I have heard this,” Moore said, smiling when told the nickname. “It wasn’t really ever a big thing for me, but yes, I would bring potential prospects that would come to the school and stuff and give them tours.

“It’s just a beautiful environment to learn. It’s a very comfortable, free environment. The best part of this community is they’re going to support you in chasing your dreams.”

Moore said she was classmates with Taylor Crabb, one half of the U.S.’ top-ranked men’s beach volleyball team. Taylor’s mom, Paula, a champion canoe racer, has been a Punahou P.E. teacher since Obama was there. Taylor and partner Jake Gibb have been competing against Taylor’s older brother, Trevor, and Tri Bourne for Olympic beach volleyball berths.

It’s possible both Crabb brothers, who grew up a five-minute walk from the Punahou campus, can make it to Tokyo.

“Whenever someone says, oh, I went to Punahou, the first thing someone says is, oh, it’s where Barack Obama went,” said Trevor, who won a state basketball title and goes back to campus about once a year to see the old gym.

Shoji’s father, Dave, was the University of Hawaii’s women’s volleyball coach for 42 years, capturing four national titles and retiring in 2017 as the winningest coach in NCAA history. Ma’a won four state titles in volleyball at Punahou and others in football and basketball. At 22 and fresh out of UCLA, he was the second-youngest U.S. player at the 2019 Volleyball Nations League.

Both Trevor Crabb and Moore said you wouldn’t know it by walking around campus that Obama once roamed the grounds. He contributed to just one of a reported 505 state championships in the school’s history, a record for any state.

“There’s nothing up there yet,” of the 44th U.S. President, Moore said, “but it’s definitely something the school is very proud of.”

MORE: Hockey field to hospital ward: Olympian’s life amid coronavirus pandemic

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Jake Gibb sets record as oldest man to win beach volleyball World Tour event

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Jake Gibb and Taylor Crabb won their first FIVB World Tour event together and jumped to the front of the line of Olympic qualifying Sunday at the four-star event in Chetumal, Mexico.

Gibb is 43 years old and will be 44 when the Olympics start next year in Tokyo. He is aiming for his fourth appearance in the Olympics, having reached the quarterfinals in 2008 and 2012 with Sean Rosenthal and played in 2016 with Casey Patterson.

Gibb teamed up with Crabb in 2017 and found immediate success on the AVP Tour. This year on the AVP circuit, the pair won four of six events and never missed the podium.

Until Sunday, their best finish in FIVB play was fifth. In Mexico, after dropping a match in pool play, the pair rallied for a three-set win over the second seeds, Poland’s Michal Bryl and Grzegorz Fijalek, then took two straight-set wins before defeating top-seeded Alexander Brouwer and Robert Meeuwsen of the Netherlands 21-16, 16-21, 15-12 in the men’s final.

The win was worth 800 points in Olympic qualifying, moving the duo up to eighth overall and first among U.S. teams. Only two teams per country can qualify.

Crabb’s brother, Trevor Crabb, is in position to go to the Olympics as well. He and Tri Bourne took bronze in Mexico to move into second among U.S. teams.

The qualification chase still has a long way to go. The final rankings will be posted June 15. Lurking behind the Crabb brothers and their partners is the veteran duo of Nick Lucena and Phil Dalhausser, who reached the 2016 Olympic quarterfinals and had a torrid run in 2016-17 but struggled internationally this year. Lucena and Dalhausser will each be 40 years old during the 2020 Games.

In women’s play, Sarah Sponcil/Kelly Claes and Brooke Sweat/Kerri Walsh Jennings each placed fifth. April Ross and Alix Klineman are the top U.S. pair in the qualifying rankings, having won a Major Series event last year over Sweat and three-time Olympic champion Walsh Jennings, who stand fifth overall with Sponcil and Claes chasing them for the second U.S. berth.

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Crabb brothers, once beach volleyball partners, now rivals for Olympic spot

Taylor Crabb, Trevor Crabb
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Trevor Crabb and Taylor Crabb began this Olympic cycle as beach volleyball partners. The brothers are now rivals, competing against one another for an Olympic berth.

“It’s a good story, how it ended,” Trevor said of their breakup.

The climax came at the first AVP event after the 2016 Olympics (the Crabbs didn’t qualify for Rio). Trevor, 26, and Taylor, 24, reached the semifinals in Chicago, two match wins from their first title together.

Trevor said they were required to attend a sponsor-thrown player party on the Saturday night before the final four. He left the gathering early to rest before the last day of the tournament.

“Taylor ended up staying out all night and partying,” Trevor said, laughing. “I show up the next morning to the player tent, and I see him, and I could just tell that he was completely hung over.”

Taylor confirmed the story. They were swept out of the semifinals 21-12, 21-16 in what turned out to be their last match as partners.

“That was kind of the tipping point right then,” Trevor said. “We just got annihilated in the semis and were totally just yelling at each other the whole match.”

The Crabbs flew back to Redondo Beach, Calif., where they share a home.

“[Trevor] was sitting on the couch, and I walked to him,” Taylor said. “I said, hey, I think we should play with separate partners going forward. He says, yeah, sounds good. That was it.

“At that point we weren’t talking at all. While we were playing together, we strictly played volleyball together and that’s it. We didn’t hang out. We didn’t do anything together.”

They broke the news to their parents.

“I was disappointed that they chose not to [keep playing together], but I think it’s helped them grow,” said Paula Crabb, a longtime champion canoe racer who just started her 44th year as a physical education teacher at Honolulu’s Punahou School, which produced Barack Obama.

“I was there when he was,” she said of Obama, who graduated in 1979. “He was on the basketball team. I didn’t teach him, though.”

Though Taylor was out too late in Chicago, he won the breakup.

After that AVP event, he connected with three-time Olympian Jake Gibb, who was looking for a new partner after playing with Casey Patterson in Rio. Though Gibb was 40, he was still one of the best U.S. blockers and, importantly for Taylor, had a bevy of FIVB points to earn automatic entry into events.

Trevor had no partner immediately lined up. He played with two-time Olympian Sean Rosenthal and John Mayer before teaming with childhood friend Tri Bourne, with whom he’s now making a Tokyo 2020 run.

Paula, who has the summers off from teaching, now splits time watching each son’s matches. Sometimes they play at the same time on different courts. She doesn’t keep close track of Olympic qualifying, but she knows both are in the running.

“It would be great if both of them did,” get to Tokyo, she said. “Both following their dreams. If one did, that’s great, too. I’ll take anything right now.”

This weekend’s season-ending FIVB World Tour Finals could prove critical for the Crabbs and their new partners. They are among three U.S. teams chasing a maximum of two Olympic spots.

Olympic qualifying, which began last year, runs into June, but the 2020 season schedule hasn’t been set yet. The World Tour Finals, which award the maximum qualifying points among annual tournaments, could be the last five-star-level event before the Tokyo Games.

Right now, Trevor and Bourne lead the U.S. Olympic qualifying standings with 5,600 points in 11 tournaments. In second place: 2008 Olympic champion Phil Dalhausser and his partner, Nick Lucena, with 4,880. In third: Taylor and Gibb with 4,260.

A caveat: Trevor and Bourne have played 11 tournaments. Dalhausser and Lucena and Taylor and Gibb have each played nine. Come the Olympic qualifying cutoff in June, each team’s 12 best results are counted. Going by average points gained so far, Dalhausser and Lucena are in the lead (542 per event), followed by Trevor and Bourne (509) and Taylor and Gibb (473). The U.S. teams must also attain a certain international ranking to qualify. That’s not guaranteed and could create more complications.

Taylor and Gibb were in better position at the start of 2019, but they haven’t made any semifinals this international season. Meanwhile, Trevor and Bourne made a stunning run to the world championships semifinals to boost their stock.

But last month, Bourne broke his right hand celebrating a match win. He hit the referee stand with his fists, but it wasn’t padded like he expected. They had to forfeit out of the five-star event. Bourne is playing left-handed this week. They lost their first match 21-13, 21-13 on Thursday.

The Crabbs could become the second set of brothers or sisters to play on different beach volleyball teams at an Olympics, according to Bill Mallon of the OlyMADMen. German twins Christoph and Markus Dieckmann had different partners in 2004.

Two sets of Olympic siblings played together with decent success — the Austrian Schwaiger sisters and the Swiss Laciga brothers, the latter known for not talking to each other during a decade-long run.

“Because every time one made a suggestion to the other, they’d imploded, they figured it was best not to say anything,” Misty May-Treanor wrote in her book.

Taylor and Trevor said they have been on good terms for the last year and a half, once things cooled over.

“Our relationship’s better than it’s ever been,” Taylor said. “It’s great for both of our careers and our games that we don’t have that extra baggage and tension and stress from playing with each other.”

And if only one of them can make the Olympic team?

“If it does come down to us two battling it out for that last spot, I’m happy that it’s with them,” Taylor said. “If they do happen to get it, I’ll be proud of them either way. I grew up with Tri, too.”

Gibb, at 44, is in the twilight of his career. Taylor could very well be looking for a new partner after Tokyo. Both brothers said they are open to partnering up again. It would certainly make it easier on mom flying from Hawaii to watch their matches.

“I’m just hoping there’s still a day where they can get back together,” Paula said.

MORE: Olympic beach volleyball champ eyes comeback

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