HONOLULU STAR ADVERTISER (August 11, 2016)
At not much over 6 feet and, maybe, 250 pounds, offensive lineman Kelly McGill was nothing if not resourceful in college football.
Nicknamed “McDirt” for his tenacity in winning skirmishes in the trenches, he started for three seasons at the University of Hawaii, playing on the 1992 Holiday Bowl championship team as a tackle and earning All-Western Athletic Conference honorable mention honors in 1994 at center.
Then he parlayed a degree from UH’s School of Travel Industry Management into a entrepreneurial career owning restaurants and businesses from Waikiki to Vietnam. Now, at age 45, he is digging in on what looms as his biggest challenge, promoting a wider, lasting niche for rugby here.
The Western Union Ohana Cup 2016 Rugby League Festival runs Aug. 19-20 at Aloha Stadium. As big of an event as this is, bringing together teams from Hawaii, Australia, Canada, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, the vision is larger and about more than just one weekend.
“I have this dream of building Hawaii as the epicenter of international rugby in the Asia-Pacific area,” McGill said. “Our ultimate goal is to have year-round events, major tournaments, here.”
McGill gravitated to rugby after his UH career. “I kinda figured out pretty quickly that the NFL wasn’t going to be an opportunity for me,” he said. Plus, he said, “I finally got
to touch the ball as a center my senior year but I never got to run the ball. So in rugby
having the opportunity to run the ball and run people over really appealed to me.”
Rugby became his calling. In his wanderings he played semipro in Australia, was a
player-coach of the USA Tomahawks, played 10 international matches and met Prince
Charles during a tournament in London until a spinal cord contusion ended his playing
Along the way, “The coach of the Tonga team and I were talking at my restaurant in
2011 and we said, “hey, what if we do an event in Hawaii?’” McGill said. “It made so
much sense to us when we thought about it, we said, ‘let’s do it!’”
What sprang from that conversation was a modest event at Kaiser High in 2012 that
has steadily grown in size and stature over the years, moving into Aloha Stadium.
In the process the groundwork and vision of McGill and his partner, David Ma’afu
Wendt, have attracted the backing of the Hawaii Tourism Authority and corporate
sponsors who see potential in it on several fronts. McGill said ESPN will stream video
of the event.
Rugby is fastest growing among team sports in the U. S., according to a Sports
&Fitness Industry Association report. “It is a sport that provides options for guys after
their football careers are over,” McGill said. Former Rainbow Warriors Leonard Peters
and Lance Williams are among those who have taken to the sport.
“What we have been able to do has opened some eyes and, now, (teams) are
contacting us,” McGill said. “The word is getting out that (Hawaii) is the place to be.
Now, we’ve just to take the ball and run with it.”
By Ferd Lewis (e: email@example.com p:808-529-4820)
About Kelly McGill
- Owner/President of Grand Pacific Events
- Former All-WAC University of Hawaii Warrior Right Tackle
- Member of 1992 WAC Champion and Holiday Bowl Champion (UH Warrior Football)
- Co-Owner of Tiki’s Grill & Bar (Waikiki)
- Former player, team manager and assistant coach for US National Rugby League Team (US Tomahawks)
- World traveler and also had the opportunity to meet Prince Charles of Wales during the 2013 Rugby League World Cup in London, England.