Taylor 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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U.S. sweeps beach volleyball events at World Beach Games

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Siblings Karissa Cook and Brian Cook led their teams to gold medals at the four-player beach volleyball competitions Wednesday at the World Beach Games in Qatar.

Each team avenged a loss in pool play. The women lost to Brazil in straight sets but took a convincing 21-16, 21-9 win in the final. The men lost to host Qatar, one of its two losses in pool play, before charging back to win the rest of its matches in straight sets, including a 21-18, 26-24 win in the final.

Karissa Cook, who played as a setter for Stanford’s indoor volleyball team and played for Hawaii’s beach volleyball team as a graduate student, had five kills and five blocks in the women’s final. Former Hawaii indoor player Emily Hartong also accounted for 10 points with six kills and four blocks. Geena Urango, who played indoors and on the beach at Southern Cal, had eight kills.

Cook, Hartong and teammates Allie Wheeler and Katie Spieler played together to win a snow volleyball competition in Moscow over the winter.

Brian Cook, who also played at Stanford and has played for the U.S. indoor team, led the U.S. men with nine kills and six blocks in the final. Taylor Crabb, who played at Long Beach State and recently won the AVP Hawaii Open with Jake Gibb, had 11 kills and a block.

Elsewhere on the last day of the World Beach Games, the U.S. women’s 3×3 basketball team shot just 34% from the field in a 14-12 loss to Brazil.

The U.S. finished the inaugural edition of the World Beach Games with four gold medals and four bronze.  Spain had the most gold medals with seven; Brazil had the most medals with 12.

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