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The City Journals

Falatea family bring competitive spirit to Herriman athletics

Feb 23, 2021 04:17PM ● By Justin Adams

The Falatea family moved to Herriman last year. Senior Lealani and Sophomore Michael play for the Herriman High girls basketball and football teams, respectively. (Photo Courtesy of the Falatea family)

By Justin Adams | [email protected]

The state of Utah is no stranger to great sports families, from Krugers and Kaufusis to Bartons and Sewells. The Falatea family could be next in line. 

Jamie and Charlie Falatea were both athletes (as well as high school sweethearts) at Alta High School. Jamie played for the Hawks’ basketball team, while Charlie played for the football team. 

The two got married a year after graduation and started putting their “team” together, one kid at a time. 

The two oldest, Deserae and Lealani, followed their mom’s footsteps onto the basketball court. Two years ago, the duo led East High to two 5A state championships. Deserae now plays for the Utah Valley University basketball team and Lealani is looking to add another state championship trophy to her collection—this time, for her new team of Herriman Mustangs. 

The Falatea family moved into a new home in Herriman last year with a plan for their kids to continue attending East High. Then COVID-19 came along.

“We weren’t initially planning on having the girls move schools, but then the pandemic hit and the earthquake hit, so we thought, man we really need to stick close together,” Charlie said. And so Lealani and younger brother Michael enrolled at Herriman High.

Michael, a sophomore, earned a starting spot on the Herriman football team this fall. He was able to showcase his athleticism all over the field—playing defense, catching touchdowns, returning punts—on the way to being named to the All-Region team. Herriman Head Coach Dustin Pearce thinks he’s just getting started though.

Michael Falatea carries the ball during a Herriman High football game this fall. (Photo courtesy of the Falatea family)

“I always said that when he got to high school, I wasn’t going to continue coaching. Just let me be a dad in the stands. It didn’t happen that way,” Charlie said. Coaching Michael from the sideline was his dad Charlie, who got roped into helping out the Herriman coaching staff (despite his best efforts).

It took just a few conversations for Pearce to realize how valuable of an addition Charlie would be to the coaching staff.

“Just the way he spoke about the game, his knowledge…” Pearce said. “And I felt like he would maybe look back and regret not coaching his son during high school.”

Lealani meanwhile, was also able to team with a family member on the basketball team. Her cousin Tessa Pan is a junior guard on the team. 

“It’s been really great,” Lealani said. “It’s been the first time I’ve gone to school with my cousins. I love having her here.”

The Herriman girls basketball team finishd the regular season as the No. 1 seed in 6A with an 20-1 record. The Mustangs have been blowing out their region opponents by an average score of 68.7 to 41.2, fueled by an aggressive defense and a barrage of 3-pointers from the team’s many sharpshooters. Orchestrating it all is Lealani, who, like her mom, plays the point guard position. 

While she has enjoyed her team’s streak of blowout victories, Lealani said she prefers closer matchups, a product of growing up in an extremely competitive household.She’s an ideal ball distributor with a high basketball IQ according to Jamie. “She just sees the court really well and knows how to use her teammates. She’s a great scorer but I think her biggest strength is that she knows how to get everyone involved,” she said.

 Lealani Falatea stops for a mid-range floater in a game against Bingham. (Justin Adams/City Journals)

“We’re very competitive. All of our kids are super competitive,” Charlie said. 

When asked who is the better basketball player between herself and her older sister, Lealani begrudgingly admitted that Deserae still has the edge. “Hopefully, I will catch up to her one day,” she said.

The two will likely have a chance to go head-to-head in the coming years, though not one-on-one. Lealani, who is considered the No. 1 women’s basketball recruit in the state, is committed to play for BYU at the next level. The chance to play just down the road from her older sister and just down the freeway from the rest of her family was a driving force behind Lealani’s decision to play for the Cougars. 

That’s no surprise, given how the Falatea family have intertwined family and sports as they’ve raised their eight kids. 

“We thought that getting our kids involved in competitive sports would help raise our kids, and we still live by that motto. We feel like competitiveness in sports helps us teach things to our kids that we’re not always going to be there to teach,” Charlie said. 

Chief among those lessons is the importance of being there for family. In sports, that looks like 45+ members of the extended Falatea family (Charlie has 11 siblings) showing up to support a cousin at a Junior Jazz game. Or something as simple as getting everyone together to cheer on their family-favorite NFL team, the San Francisco 49ers. For the Falatea family, that support is what develops not just great athletes, but great kids.