High school football: Family of ineligible Timpview players speaks out about controversy
PROVO — Peni Teisina would take his young children to work with him on a construction site for their benefit — not his.
As they struggled to keep up with their father in the hot, humid Hawaiian sun, he told them the reason he wanted them to suffer just a little.
"He would tell them that when they were sitting in an air-conditioned school, they should think of him sweating in the sun," said Salote Teisina, Peni's daughter. "And he said, 'Remember, the pencil is lighter than the shovel.'"
It is a lesson that Peni and his wife, Lesieli Teisina, taught Salote and Salote's four other biological siblings, as well as 11 other children the Teisinas took into their home as if they were their own. Gaining an education and earning a better life was so important to the Teisinas that Lesieli Teisina decided to move to Utah in 2008 with their two youngest biological children (both sons), the son of a friend, and three cousins whose mother had passed away when they were toddlers.
Salote Teisina said trouble is everywhere on the small island and keeping young people invested in something like sports can be the difference between a productive, satisfying life or a life of crime and heartbreak.
It was the passion her sons expressed for football that prompted Lesieli to move to Utah after two of her daughters moved to the state to attend college. Despite the distance from her husband and language barriers, Lesieli Teisina felt strongly enough about the opportunities in Utah that she bought a house in Provo and moved here with the six teenage boys.
Ironically, her desire to find the best opportunities for each boy began a series of events that would eventually lead to Timpview losing two region titles, a season of victories and a No. 1 seed in this year's 4A tournament.
Timpview lost two region titles due to playing a single ineligible player in each of the last two years. Last year that player was Lai Teisina, the Teisinas' youngest biological son. This year that player — a practically homeless young man from Hawaii who'd never played football before — was Sione Tuifua, a person the Teisinas took in.
Salote Teisina wants people to know that no one involved in the controversial incidents intended to deceive, cause trouble or break rules. It was, instead, the combination of a compassionate family, cultural issues and a language barrier that led to unprecedented punishments for Timpview High and its football program.
But to understand what happened in the case, one has to go back to Hawaii where Lesieli and Peni Teisina first became concerned about keeping their children out of trouble and motivated in the classroom.
Lai Teisina is the youngest of the couple's five biological children and says football has always been his passion.
"Football has just been there my whole life," said Lai, who was a chubby child with a good-natured disposition when he was younger. "I don't know where I would be without it. It's just a door for me to get into college."
He was 12 when his parents decided that Lesieli Teisina should move to Utah with their two youngest boys and four other boys they'd raised.
"Maybe Lai was 10 or 11 years old, and my oldest son was 12 or 13, and I said, 'What do you want for your future? What's your goals?'" Lesieli recalled asking them. "Both of them answer, 'NFL.' I say, 'How can you play football? You are fat? You cannot move. You cannot run.' They say, 'You will see mom.' So I change my heart."
And she changed residences.
She bought a home in Provo and the three oldest boys went to and graduated from Provo High. She decided to rent the house in Provo to someone else, and she moved to Saratoga Springs where Lai and Ben Teisina (the older son) and another boy living with them attended Westlake High School.