Editor's note: In this second article of a two-part series chronicling Father Duenas Memorial School graduate Kyle Halehale's rise to NCAA Division I athletics, the fiery Friar shares his secrets of success.
Part of the reason NCAA Division II and III and the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics exist is because not every athlete has what it takes to play at the highest level. To be fair, many student-athletes are content in the lower divisions, where sport is serious business, but there is usually enough time left over to enjoy the finer aspects of college life such as tailgating, joining a fraternity or sorority, and embarking on the journey into young adulthood.
But for Father Duenas Memorial School Friars class of 2020 grad Kyle Halehale, who signed with the Central Connecticut State University Blue Devils men’s soccer team, NCAA D1 was the only real option. While he had better financial offers from D2 programs, signing with CCSU was the best course of action to keep his dream alive of playing in the MLS.
“I want to be one of the first athletes to be born and raised on Guam and play professionally in the U.S.,” Halehale said. “That’s the dream.”
For the 18-year-old Halehale, that dream began over a decade ago when his toe touched his first soccer ball. As the leather from his cleat and ball collided, it was love at first kick.
“Just fall in love with what you’re doing,” said Halehale, sharing that his devotion to the sport was the single most important factor in making it to the top of college athletics. “You fall in love with it by getting better.”
When Halehale entered middle school, he played other sports, but like any true love affair and the desire to create something beautiful, he ditched the other suitors and focused solely on soccer. Like the historic fable of Romeo and Juliet, or the more modern Shrek and Princess Fiona cartoon love story, Halehale vowed his never-ending passion to his one true love - it was with soccer that he chose to walk through the threshold and make a life together.
It’s about “staying committed and wanting more of yourself,” Halehale said.
"It’s really about one’s mentality, I guess, whether it’s leaving your favorite club with your friends to play with a better team and surrounding yourself with good players and good people, or hanging out with the right people," he said.
Halehale’s recipe for success has been a combination of “playing at the highest level, and really just staying committed to your sport and working hard, because there is always someone that is better than you and always working harder than you,” he added.
“You’ve just got to give the best effort you can.”
Besides becoming single-mindedly focused and ditching the comfort of club team camaraderie, Halehale sacrificed his summers to compete in leagues in the United States and Japan.
“I never hang out with my friends,” he said. “But every summer, once school ends, I try to leave the island and play overseas. ... The last three years, I flew to the states and I just lived on my own or with random people, and I just played soccer there the whole summer.”
After a summer filled with playing on high-level club teams, or practicing with Daisuke Tsujimoto, his uncle, a former professional soccer player, “I come back and not spend a single day with my friends … and just … go to school,” Halehale said. “I love playing soccer.”
With 50 Guamanians playing intercollegiate athletics, Halehale is proud to be a part of the island’s insurgence of athletes who are willing to leave home in pursuit of higher education and taking their game to the next level. However, at the high school level, he would like to see a shift in perception, participation and politics.
He said that too much emphasis is placed on student-athletes' ability to compete in multiple sports, and a limited number of schools and elite athletes already impedes the level of play.
“When you get into high school, I I think it’s important to focus on one sport,” he said. “On Guam, being a multisport athlete is really the thing, but … if you focus on one sport and you really hone skills … it’s just going to help you in the long run.”
"You get better at your sport quicker, and really grow as an athlete," he said.
Halehale also said that the Guam Department of Education seceding from the Independent Interscholastic Athletic Association of Guam and forming its own league, the Interscholastic Sports Association, was a mistake and not in students’ best interest.
"Put the politics aside and do what’s best for the students,” he said, adding, “I don’t care if it’s a trimester or quarter system, I think that Guam should have just one organization.”
Recently, IIAAG announced it had shifted to a trimester system, while ISA is remaining with its four-quarter model, although there is talk that ISA will follow suit with the private schools.
"We’re already limited in the amount of high schools we have, and the competition, so why would we make it more difficult. The public school-private school rivalry is always a good thing," he said.
“That’s where a lot of people get their competitive edge, and I really don’t see the use of fighting over which program is better. Put the student-athletes ahead, and give them the best opportunity they can to thrive in competition.”
With an island population around 160,000, and with his international experience, Halehale urges athletes to leave island not only for a reality check, but to see what competition is like overseas.
“A lot of kids get complacent because we are a small population” (and) competition is limited,” he said. … “It’s competition that we struggle with.”
With the Northeast Conference canceling its men’s soccer preseason due to the coronavirus pandemic, Halehale will have to wait before joining the team and seeing where he measures up in D1 competition.
“I’m in a holding pattern,” he said. “Things change by the week - by the day, actually, and anything could happen. I just want to play well and show that all of my hard work paid off," he said.
“I just want to show them the talent on the island, and I want to put Guam on the map and make my family proud,” he said.