If it weren’t for his father, Gig Harbor senior free safety Kale Wong might have never started playing football.
Now, his father’s memory is what drives him to be the best football player he can possibly be.
Allen Wong died in 2009 after a battle with ALS. He grew up poor in rural Maui, living with his cousins.
“He had to care of his paralyzed grandpa,” Wong said. “It was about seven or eight kids in a little shack in Hawaii. He was the oldest, so he had to take care of everybody. From a young age, he was a leader. He used to have to walk eight to 10 miles or hitch a ride just to go to school. He just couldn’t do it.”
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So the elder Wong moved to Oahu and played football at Kahuku High School, where he received multiple honors both as an all-state basketball and all-conference football player. He went on to earn a scholarship to BYU, where he played free safety in the late 1970s.
“I remember it was just hard for him (at BYU),” Wong said. “He had two kids already. It was hard for him to take care of the family. He was just pushing everything and knew it’d get better for him. It was hard, but he always said to keep pushing and never give up.”
Allen Wong was a stern father, Kale recalls.
“He was a rough guy, old-fashioned,” Wong said.
Wong, looking for a way to relate to his father, decided to play football.
“Football was something we could both share,” he said. “I thought, ‘I’m going to play this next year because of my dad.’”
Allen Wong passed away that March.
“I use that as motivation just to get better every day, and just to make sure I get a scholarship,” Wong said. “I have my three older brothers always pushing me too, saying, ‘Dad would want you to do this.’ When I feel like I want to quit, they’d say, dad would push you. That’s my biggest motivation. This is probably the only reason why — besides my brothers out here on the field — he’s probably the only reason why I play football.”
Wong wears his father’s jersey number — No. 20 — and said he thinks of his father every day.
“When I’m just tired and beat, I just want to do it for my dad — keep pushing and get that scholarship,” Wong said.
When Wong walked onto campus, Gig Harbor coach Aaron Chantler saw potential — and a lot of emotion, too.
“You kind of always find that kid who needs an outlet,” Chantler said. “Kale is a really good kid. I think football has given him a way to channel some of those feelings that come with losing your dad. It took some time. The first couple years in the program, you could see there were times where he was different. You don’t know what it’s about and you don’t want to assume, but you could see the emotions coming to the surface, but they weren’t being channeled in the right way. Now, they’re being channeled in the right way. As he’s matured, he’s really dialed it in. I know that’s what drives him.”
Chantler has pushed to make the Gig Harbor program a family atmosphere. Wong’s passion for the team embodies the culture Chantler has aimed to create.
“Talk about kids who have bought into the family atmosphere: That’s Kale,” Chantler said. “He’s the leader of that and he really, truly feels like this is his family. He’s got a very strong support system with his blood relatives, but he embodies that family atmosphere here. It’s been a coming-of-age story to watch him mature. Not just the player, but the person and leader that he is.”
Wong became a leader off the field when his father was diagnosed with ALS.
“I remember having to take care of my dad,” Wong said. “With ALS, you lose muscle in your upper body, then your lower body and soon after a while you can’t talk. I remember feeding him, changing him and doing everything for him. It was kind of hard for someone my age; I just didn’t know what to do. I was so young.”
Now, he’s the unquestioned leader of the Gig Harbor defense, which has lofty expectations. Wong plays an aggressive brand of football, punishing players who come into his area.
“He’s a hitter,” Chantler said. “You want to set a tone back there, that Kam-Chancellor, big-bodied, I’m-gonna-knock-the-snot-out-of-you-when-you-come-into-my-area kind of guy, that’s Kale Wong. There’s going to be some loud noises coming from his position.”
Add linebacker Alex Bouterse and Narrows 4A first-team defensive back Keyell Davis to the mix, and the Tides defense has potential to be special this season. Most eyes will be on the record-setting offense from a season ago, which returns several key pieces. Quarterback Davis Alexander returns, as well as wide receiver Noah Samsen and Peninsula transfer Kyle Olson-Urbon. Adrian Valona returns in the backfield, running behind a strong offensive line, which returns tackles Connor Jost and Sean Reemts.
“We can be really, really explosive,” Samsen said. “It’s just going to come down to execution, really. We have a lot of good pieces, and putting them together is the biggest part.”
The Tides have been the source of much offseason hype, including a No. 1 state ranking from Northwest Elite Index, and online publication that follows Washington high school football.
“We just kind of block out all the noise,” Samsen said. “Last year, we had a little more hype than we had in the past, so it was kind of getting used to it. This year, it’s much more than we’ve ever had. We’re just adjusting, we know what we need to do. This is our fourth year doing it. We just have to keep doing what we’re doing and find our success through that.”
GIG HARBOR 2015 SCHEDULE
Friday, Sept. 4
Thursday, Sept. 10
at Auburn Riverside
Thursday, Sept. 17
Friday, Sept. 25
Friday, Oct. 2
Thursday, Oct. 8
Friday, Oct. 16
Friday, Oct. 23
Friday, Oct. 30