Living Fa’a-Samoa: Shafter football coach on coaching and culture

June 6, 2024 /

Fa’a-Samoa, known as the Samoan way of doing things, is what Konelio Maino Jr, 32, likes to live by throughout his life of coaching, the man he tries to be, and someday teach his future children.

Maino is currently the offensive line coach for Shafter High School’s varsity football team and was the first generation of his family to be born in the States. Both of his parents were from American Samoa and moved to Hawaii after Maino’s father joined the American military. 

“That’s kind of like one of your ways off the island to [the States]. For some of us you’re either really good at school, you’re really good at sports, or you join the military,” said Maino.

Although Maino was the first to be born in the States, he was raised in Hawaii so moving to the mainland was a huge transition and culture shock for Maino as a child. 

“It’s still a lot different from mainland America because we’re around our people. So they know how to speak our language [and] they know the culture,” he commented.

Konelio Maino Jr’s parents. His parents were from American Samoa and moved to Hawaii after Maino’s father joined the American Samoa military. (Photo courtesy of Konelio Maino Jr.)

Maino had a hard time speaking English at first and had classmates making fun of his heavy accent. He would mix up words with the island’s slang called Pidgin. For example, instead of the word “goosebumps” he would say “chick skin” or instead of the word “spanking” he would say “lickings.” He said this confused people or he would be confused while people talk to him. 

So Maino tried his hardest to learn proper English and enunciate his words because he didn’t like sticking out, “I already look different than most of the people that I went to school with. Especially when I came to California, I wanted to kind of just blend in.”

Maino also goes by his nickname, Lio, which he got when he first moved to the mainland and his teacher didn’t know how to pronounce his name. 

“So I came home and started writing Lio on all my papers. It pissed off my mom at first because she was like, ‘Why are you writing Lio?’” His mom went to the school to talk to his teacher but Maino had been writing his new nickname on his papers for weeks so it stuck.  To this day his mom calls him Konono or his name but hardly ever Lio. 

Now as an adult who has been living in the States for almost two decades, Maino shared that there are a lot of deep Samoa cultures that he wishes he knew when he was younger and grew up in that kind of lifestyle. 

Maino wished he knew how the ceremonies go when families come to visit or how they pay respect for loved ones passing. By celebrating life. 

Maino’s father was the second person in Kern County to die of COVID-19 back in March of 2020. He also had Valley fever every year since he first moved to California. Maino said it had been damaged up to the point where he almost died from Valley fever 20 years earlier. 

(Photo courtesy of Konelio Maino Jr.)

“The American way is like as soon as somebody passes away they’re trying to get it done as quickly as possible. In our Samoan culture, it’s like almost a two, three-week thing, but we’re celebrating life,” Mino revealed. “We’re allowing our family units to come to pay their respects. And in all honesty, they bring money, they bring food, they bring goods, and give it to the families so that they can help the family out…” 

So Maino admires how powerful it is to see how strong people can be and how strong a family can be. He sees it as a beautiful thing. “In our culture, it’s all about hospitality and serving.” 

Which is why he would love to pass on the culture to his future children someday. A big one for him is for them to learn their language because Maino said he felt robbed in a way.  

Fa’a-Samoa, known as the Samoan way of doing things, is another important thing he would want to pass down. Samoa is a very oral tradition, Maino explained. He said they don’t keep records. They transfer things down through storytelling and everything’s oral. 

“We have prayers and the prayer is like three, two, three hours. That’s how important words are,” he said.

Football was the first sport Maino played when he first came to the mainland. He said it was super easy for him to enjoy because like in Samoan culture they are taught to unite with one another like a team and discipline. 

But Maino got interested in coaching football when he coached his high school Powder Puffs football game in his senior year at Taft High School. 

Konelio Maino Jr. during his Powder Puffs football game in his senior year at Taft High School, 2010. (Photo courtesy of Konelio Maino Jr.)

It’s Maino’s sixth season with Shafter and he said he can’t see himself anywhere else for now. Maino said he spends seven days a week there and he is not exaggerating.

“I love the community. I love coaching for Coach Pierucci. They’re a bunch of hardworking, fun guys and they’re also really smart football-wise. For me, it’s like a challenge. I don’t want to be the smartest guy ever and I’m glad that I’m not. Because it motivates me to learn, keep learning, keep trying to find the next thing to help our guys out. That’s what I love about Shafter,” stated Maino.

In 2022, Maino helped the team to win their first section title after several years. Last year they went 11-1 but fell one game short of repeating the second title. 

“We accomplished a lot. We beat Bakersfield High School for the first time in our school’s pro history.  Then we beat Bakersfield Christian for the second time in our school’s history. We won the South Sequoia League.  Championship which is very hard to win because we don’t have tiebreakers. So we’re the outright champion. We didn’t have to share the title with any other team. We’ve had a lot of success the last two years. The crazy part is we’re still a young team, so we can seriously add on more to it.”

Shafter High School football team after winning their championship. (Photo courtesy of Konelio Maino Jr.)

Haley Duval

Haley is a reporter for Kern Sol News since December of 2023. She was born and raised in East Bakersfield and went to Foothill High School. Haley has AA in Journalism from Bakersfield College. When Haley is not reporting, she enjoys writing poetry, reading, traveling and spending time with friends and family. She can be reach at haley@southkernsol.org.