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TDBH: Bengals’ visit aids Samoan homeland

Posted Feb 8, 2018

This Day in Bengals History - February 9, 2010


After yesterday’s airport greeting bannered with “Welcome Home,” signs, the contingent of three Bengals with Samoan roots continues its visit today when they begin fanning out to the six high schools in Samoa’s capital of Pago Pago during a trip that is A1 news on the island. Nose tackle Domata Peko, defensive lineman Jon Fanene, and rookie linebacker Rey Maualuga first conduct business with American Samoa governor Togiola Tulafono yesterday morning in a Pago Pago ceremony. They present him with a check for the $40,000 they raised at Cincinnati’s Fountain Square rally during the season for victims of last September’s tsunami. The check reads, in part, “from the Cincinnati Bengals and the Tri-State area.”

It is a significant trip for all three. Fanene lost some relatives on his father’s side in the killer storm. Peko hasn’t been back since his 2002 graduation from Samoana High School when he left for junior college at College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, Calif. Maualuga hasn’t been back since he was three years old and hasn’t seen his brother Rodney since his father’s 2006 funeral. Peko is also using the trip to unveil his foundation, “Giving Our Kids a Brighter Future,” and it will kick off with visits to the assemblies at the high schools, including his own.

 

Peko is so excited about his donation of shoulder pads to each school that he talks about them on only one condition. “Don’t say anything about it until (today),” says Peko a few days ago. “I think it’s something they’re really going to like and something they really need.” Simon Mageo, who coached Peko at Samoana and is now the principal, doesn’t see it coming until this morning when the trucks back up to the school and he’s presented with 50 helmets and 50 pairs of shoulder pads. There are also 700 pairs of cleats coming courtesy of Maualuga and his Under Armour stash. Divide that by six and that’s how many cleats each school is getting.  “Our helmets are from 2005,” says Mageo via phone from the high school later this week. “In a lot of them, you can put your thumb on the cushions and because of the wear and tear and the humidity, it’s pretty solid. Your thumb doesn’t go very far down in the cushion. It’s for the grace of God that there haven’t been a lot more serious concussions. Some of them have to wear a couple of bandannas for padding.” The shoulder pads are almost as old as Peko himself. “From the ‘90s,” Mageo says, and Peko, 25, swears he saw some from 1991, 11 years before his senior season. Age has gnawed them enough to leave frayed laces and broken latches. “It was gratifying to see the looks on their faces,” says Peko later. “It is something they need and they’re going to get a lot of use out of them. They really need it.” Mageo’s gym is packed this morning for the assembly. The visit of Peko and Maualuga has been so well publicized throughout the island that the principal thinks all of his 1,185 students are there, as well as all 98 staff members. “Teachers, coaches, cooks, everybody,” Mageo says. “And a lot of parents of the student-athletes.”

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