The Flaming “P” (1967)

Submitted by Mel Ing ’68

The night sky was lit up by the Flaming “P” and the cheerleaders led the band and a spirited crowd of over 2,000 students, alumni, parents and athletes in the singing of “O‘ahu a,” followed by a rousing rendition of “Strawberry Shortcake.” This is now a familiar and anticipated campus tradition, but for some of us, it was hard to believe that over 40 years had passed since the very first Flaming “P” ceremony.

In November of 1967, the Flaming “P” was born under very different circumstances, though its purpose has always been the same: to promote the Punahou School spirit. That fall, what had started out as a promising potential championship football season quickly became the worst season in memory. Midway through the season, over half of the varsity team as well as several junior varsity players were suspended for the remainder of the season for disciplinary reasons. The varsity football team finished the season with only 20 players and a dismal 2 win – 7 loss record.

The Flaming “P” was the result of collaboration between two members of the Class of 1968, Donna Lee Sandler Harris, the Pep Club’s special events chairperson, and Laurie Connable, Pep Club president. As the leader of the Pep Club, Laurie worked with her committee and faculty advisors Marilyn Blaisdell ’48 Ane and Bob Torrey to bolster school spirit. A student march led by Punahou President John Fox, the Punahou trustees and the marching band from campus to the old Honolulu Stadium helped improve people’s morale as the team played number two-ranked Farrington High School – its first game since the suspensions. Punahou held its own before succumbing to Farrington 28 – 14.

Laurie was determined not to let the football season dampen the school year and “talked story” with her committee about other ways to rekindle the Punahou spirit. Laurie mentioned that some schools have big bonfires. As an “off the top of the head” thought, Donna Lee threw out the idea of making a giant “P” and setting it on fire. Laurie responded instantly: “That’s a great idea! Do it!” Donna Lee then wondered, “What in the world have I gotten myself into and HOW am I going to do it?” However, she was determined to make it happen and, as they say, the rest is history.

After the last game of that difficult season, several hundred students, family members, faculty and 20 football players gathered on Middle Field. As the “P” was set afire, each player was presented with flower lei. While no one can remember if “O‘ahu a” was sung, “Strawberry Shortcake” definitely did not close the program. What I do remember is that the evening was a sense of spirits rekindled after watching the Flaming “P” illuminate the night sky. Laurie and Donna Lee, thank you for starting a tradition of spirit in a time of adversity.

Editor’s note: In 2010, the originators of the Flaming “P” reunited to celebrate over 40 years of the tradition. In a story published on, Harris noted that, “It was a ‘chicken skin’ moment for me to be in the midst of a HUGE cheering crowd when the 'P' was lit, with MANY people snapping photos to document the event. I feel quite proud that the Flaming 'P' has become a favored tradition that binds the Punahou ‘ohana.”

Connable agreed. “I was totally amazed when we walked outside after the pep rally. I couldn’t believe the number of people present and the vibrant energy in the crowd, the dancing band, the children bouncing on their fathers’ backs, and the blazing Flaming 'P'. Wow!”


  • 5/13/2016 7:01:27 AM

    Submitted by Dana Vivas-Tambay ’67

    Credit has mistakenly been given to the Class of 1968 for the birth of our school’s Flaming “P” and for starting this 50-year-old Punahou tradition. The truth of the matter is that the Class of 1967 is entitled to this recognition. The first blazing “P" actually took place Fall ’66 of our Senior Year, and I can proudly attest to that as I was the one who came up with the idea and brought it to life. (In our 1967 Senior Yearbook, there aren't any photos but page 135 does mention “a flaming p”.)

    I was Chairperson of the Rally Committee that year, Sue Smith was Co-Chair and Anne Ashford was the Pep Club Leader. As Rally Chair, I was in charge of creating an extra-special "happening" for our team's big rivalry rally. The idea of burning our school letter dawned on me while watching a mainland college football game on TV with my dad, and I set in motion a plan for the Rally/Pep Club to build our very own flaming “P” for this much-anticipated pre-game rally. At the time, I was unaware that 'Iolani had already started their own Burning “I” event in 1961. Had I’d known, I might have been able to get some valuable tips from them on how to tackle this daunting project.

    So without all the tools or knowledge actually needed to proceed, but full of youthful energy and enthusiasm, the club members got to work. I bought chicken wire & metal posts from S. Beretania City Feed, and the girls brought newspapers from home. We struggled during our 2-hour after-school meeting trying to construct project “P”. Long after the girls had gone home and the sun had gone down, I was there by myself still struggling and far from finished… and then from out of nowhere, Mr. Stubbart magically appeared. He came to my rescue and volunteered to work on it overnight at the Physical Plant workshop. Early next morning when I met him at the site of our “P” on Lower Middle Field across from Dillingham Hall, the symbol of our beloved school was there ready to be dowsed with kerosene and lit on fire at that evening's Pep Rally.

    This ’67 Alumna will be forever indebted to Jack Stubbart. Out of the goodness of his heart, the very first Flaming P's structural fabrication was made possible… and he definitely deserves long overdue mention and kudos for that! I’m also eternally grateful for our wonderful Leo Piper, whose spirit was undoubtedly present and part of its creation!

    I never imagined all those years ago that the Flaming "P" at our 1966 Rivalry Game Pep Rally would begin a tradition carried on for the better part of a half-century (as of this Fall). Or that it would come to symbolize the flames of Punahou’s enduring spirit and create memories we still hold dear.

    For the accuracy of the Archives in depicting the origin of the Flaming “P”, the 175th Anniversary storytelling of this tradition for “Punahou in 50 Objects” and for Ka Punahou... it is important to set the record straight. The very first Flaming “P” ceremony historically belongs to the Class of ’67… and at the approach of our 50th Reunion Year, it seems very timely and most appropriate for us to be justly recognized as its originators.



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