Sikahema, Tafuna Cousins Carry Ball for MHS –
Continue to ‘Carry On’ in Life
Two sets of brothers, Vai and Kap Sikahema, and David and Fabian Vaingamalie “Vai” Tafuna – all first cousins – carried the football for Mesa High School over a 20-year span, from 1980 to 2003, then carried on a family tradition of earning college football scholarships in order to pay for and pursue their educational and career goals. The boys’ mothers are sisters Ruby and Marguerite Wolfgramm, who spent their growing up years in Tonga, then married, and eventually came to Arizona to raise their families.
Vai (Vaingina) Sikahema, a 1980 graduate of MHS, who was the first of the four boys to receive a football scholarship, attended Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, where he was also the first Tongan team member to have been granted a football scholarship to BYU. He took time off during his 1980-85 playing stint to serve a full-time mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to South Dakota, returning to play as running back on the BYU team that won the 1984 College National Championship. Drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1986, Vai became the first Tongan ever to play football in the NFL. He played professionally for the St. Louis Cardinals – which have since become the Phoenix Cardinals – the Green Bay Packers and the Philadelphia Eagles.
When his football career came to a close in 1993, Vai pursued a position in his college field of study, broadcast journalism. He started out as a weekend sportscaster on NBC’s Channel 10 in Philadelphia, and eventually became the station’s sports director and news anchor, where he has covered 8 Olympic Games, hosts a weekly show “Wednesday’s Child” which promotes the adoption of area children, and co-hosts a local radio show. He also regularly contributes a column to the Deseret News in Salt Lake City, Utah – “Vai’s Views” – generally related to religious rather than sports topics. In 2002, Vai was inducted into the BYU Football Hall of Fame; in 2013, the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia Hall of Fame; and in 2016, the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame.
While at BYU, Vai married Keala Heder. They are the parents of three sons and one daughter. Although he has received numerous accolades for his varied accomplishments, Vai considers his family to be his most fulfilling and worthwhile achievement. Vai is currently a stake president in the Cherry Hill, NJ Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Vai’s younger brother, Kap, also attended Mesa High, where he earned three letters in football and one in track and graduated with the class of 1985. He, too, served a church mission – to his family’s native country of Tonga – and after returning, attended BYU on a football scholarship as a defensive back. Kap graduated with both a Degree in Finance and a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from BYU, and went into business.
For the past 20 plus years, Kap has coached high school football in Utah, Washington and Pennsylvania. In 2016, thirty years after graduating from Mesa High School, Kap was offered the head coaching position at his alma mater – the first Tongan to fill this position in one of the oldest schools in the state. This past fall, after three years of coaching at MHS, Kap announced he would be joining the Salt Lake City East High’s staff next season (2019) as defensive coordinator. He will also continue his work as tax accountant and financial adviser to non-profit organizations. Kap expressed that his experience coaching at MHS was especially meaningful to him because “it was about giving back to the community that gave him and his family so much while he was growing up.” We wish him well as he carries on his lifelong quest to be a positive and lasting influence in the lives of today’s young athletes.
Twenty years after Vai played football for Mesa High – and 15 years after Kap – their younger cousin David Tafuna (named after his father who played football for the University of Hawaii) helped lead the team to the 5-A State Quarter-finals. After graduating in 2001, and serving a church mission to Brazil, David went on to study and start at defensive back as safety for BYU on a football scholarship 2004-2008. He chose to wear the same #23 as his older cousin and mentor, Vai. While there, David taught his fellow teammates the Haka – a traditional Polynesian war dance or challenge – and led them in it prior to each game during the seasons that he played.
David’s roommate at the college dorms was Landon Sikahema, his cousin Vai’s oldest son, who set him up on a double date with a girl from his home town in New Jersey, Melissa Rebilas, whom David eventually married. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management and then spent four years in the greater Philadelphia area working in investment management as a financial analyst for Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
In 2012-2014, David attended the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern (a top five business school) in the Chicago area, where he earned an MBA in Strategy, Finance and Accounting. As a graduate student, he worked in investment banking in Manhattan at the UBS Investment Bank on Wall Street; then post-graduate, he transferred to the Mergers & Acquisitions group with Bank of America Merrill Lynch in California’s Silicon Valley for a time. David is currently CFO of SIE, a defense technology company in South Jersey. He is also President and Board Member of Insituware, a software company that is revolutionizing the ways companies control materials in manufacturing, measure critical changes in construction materials and sense physiological changes of athletes in sports.
David and Melissa have two sons and two daughters and presently live in the same town as older Sikahema cousin Vai, who happens to be their stake president at church. Their oldest son Vaingamalie, now nine, is named after David’s younger brother, Fabian Vaingamalie, whose first name was actually chosen by cousin Kap at his Aunt Marguerite’s request. His middle name Vaingamalie is after several noteworthy football players in his extended family (in Tongan, Va’Ingamalie literally means “excellent performer or player”); he was known throughout his growing up years here in Mesa by “Vai” – a shortened version of his given name.
Fabian Vaingamalie Tafuna, an Eagle Scout – as was his older brother David – not only played for the MHS football team, but was in A Cappella Choir and was Student Body Secretary his senior year of 2003. He followed in his brother’s footsteps, teaching and leading his fellow teammates in that same Polynesian war challenge, the Haka, prior to the football games in which he played. After serving a church mission to Australia, he played football on scholarship for two years at Mesa Community College (2007-08), and again taught and led his team in the pre-game Haka. During this time, Vaingamalie also met and married Carissa Merrill.
Transferring to Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, to play fullback on scholarship in 2009, Vaingamalie not only continued to inspire his fellow Wildcats with the Haka to prepare for games, but earned First Team All-Conference and All-American football honors, as well. He graduated in 2011 as a philosophy major and was hired as a full-time teacher at the Highland High School Seminary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City. After two years of teaching, Vaingamalie was accepted to BYU where he participated in a new graduate program tailored to educate and train candidates for military chaplaincy. A portion of his training included part-time teaching in BYU’s Church History and Doctrine Department.
In 2015, Vaingamalie received his Master’s Degree in Religious Studies from BYU and went on in 2016 to commission as a captain and chaplain in the US Air Force assigned to McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Kansas. He attributes his deep-rooted feelings of patriotism and his desire to serve in the protection of his country to his Boy Scouting and Mesa High Student Council experience, as well as his family visits to their Sikahema cousins in the Washington, D.C./Philadelphia areas over the summers during his childhood.
Vaingamalie and Carissa have a son named David – after Vaingamalie’s brother – and two daughters. This past November (2018) they left the States for a 3-year overseas tour, having been assigned to the 18th Combat Wing at Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa, Japan – the largest Combat Wing in the US Air Force. The Wing also provides facilities for the US Navy, Marine Corp, Army and other personnel assigned to or transiting Kadena. As chaplain, Vaingamalie facilitates the exercise of free religion to troops and their families, but he still plays flag football for his squadron on base, and continues to carry on with the Haka alongside his military comrades – a tradition that also continues to ‘carry on’ at Mesa High, thanks to the influence of these boys and other cousins who have played for the MHS football team over the years.
Congratulations on over 30 years
of TRADITION, HONOR and EXCELLENCE, Cousins!
Way to Carry On!
ARTICLE UPDATE: On April 6, 2019, during the Saturday afternoon session of its 189th Annual General Conference, Vai Sikahema was sustained as an Area Authority Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Vai Sikahema – Class of 1980
Kap Sikahema – Class of 1985
David Tafuna – Class of 2001
Vaingamalie Tafuna – Class of 2003