HONOLULU (KHNL) -- At the State Capitol Friday, members of the UH football team were honored at a rally celebrating 20 years of Papahana Kaiapuni.
Over 500 students from across the state celebrate the accomplishments of the Hawaiian language immersion program which was started 20 years ago.
Keoni Inciong with the Department of Education spoke at the rally. "The students, they have that sense of identity, they know who they are, they learn more about themselves, and with that academic curriculum, it only enhances, enriches, and improves that," he said.
Members of the University of Hawaii football team performed a traditional haka for the keki.
"It's an inspirational thing to them, to the students to see the football players, and see them speaking in Hawaiian, that the language is alive," Inciong said.
The keki, mostly from immersion schools on Oahu, sang songs and watched as members of the UH football team expressed in the Hawaiian language how their culture has impacted the UH football team.
University of Hawaii football player Brad Kalilimoku was a guest at the rally. "I grew up around a lot of Hawaiians who spoke Hawaiian but they went to a Hawaiian school and stuff but I didn't go to a Hawaiian school so I mean watching them and stuff taught me that I can go and learn the language too and I wanna speak like them," He said.
"These 20 years is proof in itself that the program is successful," Inciong said.
A majority of the students in the program have Hawaiian ancestors.
"The Kekis and stuff the kids the children they are going to be the next generation to carry on the language and the culture," Kalilimoku said.
In the future, they'd like to see more growth in enrollment.
The Hawaiian language imersion program now has 23 schools in the islands with over 1,800 students.