Dino Kahaulelio never missed a day of practice.
Not when his mom started to feel mysterious pains last spring, not when she was diagnosed with cancer last spring, not when she started using a wheelchair and not when she was too weak to come out to the football field.
The day Toni Guanella- Kahaulelio died, Jan. 22, Dino, a three-sport standout in his junior year at Cardinal Newman High School, showed up for school.
No one who knows Dino Kahaulelio was surprised.
“He wants to be a strong leader,” Cardinal Newman football coach Paul Cronin said of the first player in his tenure ever to start every game since his freshman season.
Cronin has known the Kahaulelios for years. He knows what Toni and her family were going through. He told them to just say the word and Dino could take all the time he needed.
It never happened.
“Just knowing his mom and dad, I think they felt he was blessed that he was out there,” Cronin said. “Toni was a very competitive athlete. I always looked at like this is where they thought he should be.”
It’s a lot to ask of a boy of 17 to manage the academic rigors of junior year, starting duties for the North Bay League champion football team, the move from the junior varsity to varsity basketball team, all while witnessing the biggest cheerleader in your life battle cancer.
Add to that enormous load the stress of the wildfires in October that closed Newman for months and displaced students, and you have just about every reason in the world to skip a practice here and there, miss a class, or drop out a little bit.
“If I were to stay home, I’d get in trouble with my mom,” he said.
“I know she was going through pain, but the way she looked at me and the way she would act was completely different than anything I’ve ever heard someone going through chemo would be,” he said.
If she were going to be strong, so would he.
“What would she want me to do? I was working to get better for her,” he said. “All she wanted me to do was succeed and make me a great person.”
By his way of thinking, taking a practice off would run counter to what his mom wanted him to be.
“He’s an old soul,” Cronin said. “He was raised so well. Even when he was in sixth grade, you felt like you were dealing with a senior in high school. He’s a very mature young man.”
So Dino showed up every day like he always did and worked out, watched film, hung out with his team and showed the way forward by being the same guy he’s always been. He starred on the Newman football team, tying for No. 1 in solo tackles on the squad.
He never asked for anything.
“I think his mom and his father, they didn’t want any special treatment,” Cronin said. “They want to make sure you’re OK. It was almost like Dino didn’t want to burden his team or other people.”
By the time basketball season started, Toni was struggling.
Cardinal Newman basketball coach Tom Bonfigli, like Cronin, told Kahaulelio to take the time he needed. But Bonfigli saw what his team meant to Kahaulelio.