Photo: Bob Apisa
Three Michigan State Hawaiian Pipeline figures and a Spartans quarterback from the 1990s are among 18 finalists for the Polynesian Hall of Fame Class of 2018.
Bob Apisa, Charlie Wedemeyer and Thomas Ka’ulukukui are finalists as contributors. Tony Banks, who has Samoan ancestry, was a quarterback for the Spartans and went on to play in the NFL.
The five inductees will be announced Oct. 10. The enshrinement is Jan. 19 and 20 in Hawaii.
Apisa was the first Samoan All-American football player as a fullback. He earned All-American honors twice on the Spartans’ 1965 and 1966 national championship teams. He is being enshrined in the Michigan State Hall of Fame on Sept. 28 in East Lansing.
The Polynesian Hall has considered Apisa as a player and now contributor. His college career arguably qualifies him, but the Polynesian Hall weighs pro football equally with college football. Apisa was drafted by the the Green Bay Packers in 1968 when Vince Lombardi served as general manager, but college knee injuries prevented him from having a pro career.
However, his All-American stature left an indelible mark on the game without a pro career.
“I see Bob Apisa as not only a trailblazer for Samoan and Polynesian players but for coaches as well,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo, a Polynesian Hall of Famer inducted in 2015, said in a chapter on Apisa in the book, ‘Raye of Light.’ “You have to be a player before you’re a coach. There are a lot of Samoan and Polynesians coaching now. Bob was a pioneer who opened doors for us.”
He also has served as an ambassador for Michigan State since his playing days, including producing a documentary, “Men of Sparta.” It detailed the Daugherty’s 1965 and 1966 national championship Underground Railroad teams that challenged segregation in the South.
Wedemeyer was considered one of Hawaii’s all-time top multi-sport high school athletes when Daugherty recruited him.
He went onto a successful high school coaching career, including continuing to coach at Los Gatos High in California after he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. His life story was told in a Public Broadcasting System documentary, One More Season, and TV movie, Quiet Victory, the Charlie Wedemeyer story.
In Michigan State’s 1966 comeback win over Ohio State that preserved the unbeaten Spartans’ march to the 1966 Game of the Century with Notre Dame, Apisa, Wedemeyer and Dick Kenney accounted for all 11 points in Michigan State’s 11-8 victory.
Apisa scored the game-winning touchdown and Wedemeyer caught a two-point conversion pass from Kenney following the score. Kenney also kicked a field goal earlier in the game.
The Honolulu “Star-Bulletin” celebrated a victory for the islands with this memorable headline: Hawaiians 11, Ohio State 8.
Ka’ulukukui was Michigan State College Football Hall of Fame coach Duffy Daugherty's point man recruiting Hawaii. Their efforts helped launch the influence of Polynesians on modern American football.
In all there were 11 Hawaiian players, starting with halfback William Kaae in 1955 through defensive back Carter Kamana in the early 1980s.
Ka’ulukukui and Daugherty met when Michigan State played a home-and-home series with Hawaii in 1947 and 1948. Ka'ulukukui was Hawaii's head coach following a career as halfback. He earned honorable mention All-American honors.
Banks qualifies for the Polynesian Hall of Fame with Samoan ancestry. As a senior in 1995, he led one of Michigan State’s all-time upsets of Michigan with a fourth-quarter drive.
Banks began his NFL career as a second-round draft pick by the St. Louis Rams. His career included a Super Bowl ring with the Baltimore Ravens as Trent Dilfer’s backup in Super Bowl XXXV.