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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, April 10, 2001

High school baseball players practice on their own

 •  UH coaches say going to work is difficult
 •  Strike brings OIA baseball races to a halt

By Wes Nakama
Advertiser Staff Writer

It was Monday morning, with school closed and many options open for a teen-age boy.

Roosevelt seniors Ryan Kotani, left, and Joey Shimabuku work out with baseball teammates at Manoa Valley District Park. "We don't have to be here, but we all want to win, and we gotta practice in order to win," says Kotani.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

Hit the beach? Cruise on down to Pearlridge? Go back to sleep?

At 9 a.m. yesterday, 19 'Aiea High School baseball players chose to lace up their cleats and take some grounders in the hot sun. They took infield practice, threw some bullpen and raked the dirt when they were done after a 90-minute workout at 'Aiea Recreation Center.

About 100 yards away, just past the left-field fence, their teachers and their coach walked the picket line in front of a school entrance. It was a glaring reminder of the labor dispute that has shut down the O'ahu Interscholastic Association baseball season.

The 'Aiea players, like their counterparts at several other schools, planned and conducted the practice on their own.

"We don't know when the strike is going to end, so we have to be prepared," said Casey Onaga, a senior pitcher/first baseman. "When (the season) starts again, we have to be ready."

Later in the afternoon, at Manoa Valley District Park, Roosevelt players held their own workout. They cited the same reasons.

"We still want to stay focused, stay sharp," said senior shortstop Ryan Kotani, who helped organize the practice. "We want to keep working hard."

A lot to play for

The Hawai'i State Teachers Association strike has caused the suspension of all public high school athletic activities, including official practices. OIA executive secretary Dwight Toyama said coaches could not be involved with their teams in any way, and school grounds and equipment are off-limits to the players.

But 'Aiea (3-0) sits atop the OIA West Division standings, and Roosevelt (3-2) is fighting for position in the OIA East. Both teams have a lot to play for and are looking forward to finishing the season

"Now that we know we're in first place, there's a lot of pressure on us," said Skip Saito, a senior second baseman for 'Aiea. "We cannot slack, we cannot lose anything."

Roosevelt catcher Joey Shimabuku is similarly excited about finishing the season.

"We have a good team, we have a chance," said Shimabuku, a senior. "I really hope the strike doesn't go for too long."

Some on the picket line at 'Aiea sympathized with the student-athletes. Ryan Kato, a science teacher, is Na Ali'i's baseball coach.

"I feel really bad for the kids," Kato said. "The whole season, we tried to develop a philosophy to attain a certain goal. With them practicing like this on their own — and it is on their own — it shows that everyone still believes in that philosophy. It says a lot about them, their maturity and their decision-making. They're having to make the right choices by themselves."

Kato said that as a union member and a coach, the strike is extra tough for him.

"I don't want to sacrifice the kids as an outcome, but I think we are fighting for their rights," Kato said. "Most of the players let me know they support my stance on it."

Near-perfect attendance

No matter what the labor disputes are, however, the players want a quick resolution so they can return to competition.

"Personally, I don't know whose side I'm on, because I'm hearing different things," Onaga said. "I think it's getting kinda ridiculous on both sides. But it's not our issues."

Said Saito: "Most of us agree with the teachers, they gotta do what they gotta do. But at the same time, it's hard to see our season go down, especially the seniors. I mean, we're actually doing something this year. We want to make our move."

That was exhibited by the attendance at yesterday's practice. Only two players didn't show up — one who had a doctor's appointment and one who was on the Mainland.

Roosevelt's players have the same dedication. All but three Rough Riders came to a practice on Sunday, and most of the team was at Manoa Park for a workout on Friday despite heavy rain throughout the day.

Like players from 'Aiea and other OIA teams, they are choosing to be productive during their time off from school as opposed to getting into mischief or sitting around watching TV.

"We don't have to be here, but we all want to win, and we gotta practice in order to win," Kotani said. "I think it's kinda unfair that we have to postpone our season. I think some teachers deserve a raise, and some don't deserve a raise. But now we have to suffer.

"We just want to play again."