Damien forfeits upset football players, parents
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Despite alternatives being offered by its league and objections from parents and players, Damien Memorial High School is standing firm on its pledge to forfeit games rather than play powerful St. Louis School in football this season.
School president Brother Gregory O'Donnell, citing safety concerns for Damien's undermanned and inexperienced team, announced the Monarchs' plan to forfeit their two league games against 15-time ILH defending champion St. Louis this coming season.
St. Louis won last year's meetings 49-7 and 84-0.
Damien has had 10 consecutive losing seasons in the ILH. Monarchs' athletic director Herb Lloyd said this year's team expects to have "between five and eight" seniors on its roster and a substantial lack of varsity experience among the underclassmen.
"It's going to be a very young team, a very inexperienced team," said Lloyd, who indicated that the forfeits were for this year only. "People are realizing that the kids have no say in this, and I'm sure our kids and the coaches would love to play the games. But it's an administrative safety issue."
Players and many parents disagreed with the decision.
"I really want to play," said Tuese Mauga-Tuiasosopo, who played linebacker as a sophomore last year. "(O'Donnell) made the decision without notifying us. We're the ones playing, not him ... It's not a risk. Nobody got injured last year."
Gaison Ganiko, who played defensive line as a junior last season, said he's willing to risk injury against St. Louis.
"It doesn't matter; it's a contact sport," Ganiko said. "Any sport, you can get hurt in."
Said Kalei Meheula, president of a Damien football parents group: "I feel the boys should have made the decision because they're the ones out there playing. I feel they sold them short by not giving them a chance (to play). I don't think that's right, and I'm very hurt."
ILH principals will discuss the matter at a previously scheduled meeting tomorrow.
Damien players and their parents also have scheduled a meeting for tomorrow to lodge a formal protest with school officials.
Lloyd believes Damien has a legal right not to play, and he was surprised by the amount of media attention the decision has drawn.
|St. Louis' Prince Brown scored on a 12-yard run in a 49-0 shutout of the Monarchs in 1999.
Advertiser library photo Sept. 25, 1999
ILH football coordinator Cal Lee, who is head coach at St. Louis, declined comment other than to say, "I think it's a league matter."
One proposal offered to Damien was radical restructuring that would divide the ILH's six football-playing members into two three-school divisions. That would leave the Monarchs playing St. Louis just once.
Under the proposal, St. Louis, Kamehameha Schools and Punahou School would have made up Division I. Iolani School, Damien and Pac-Five would form Division II. Schools would play two games each against teams in their division and one each against teams in the other division for a total of seven league games.
But Lloyd said that plan still would have the Monarchs playing St. Louis, a situation Damien officials want to avoid.
"Last year we lost 84-0, and it was 77-0 at halftime," Lloyd said. "These kids gotta go to school the next day and face their peers who may not understand football. We don't want to put them in that situation again. We really feel that we'd rather not play St. Louis."
Another possibility offered Damien was merging the Monarchs into Pac-Five, an existing amalgamation of Hawaii Baptist Academy, Mid-Pacific Institute and Maryknoll, Lutheran and University high schools.
"The position taken by our president was that (the merger) is not an option at this point in time," Lloyd said.
Yesterday's meeting at Damien was attended by O'Donnell, Lloyd, Damien principal Mike Weaver, Kamehameha Schools principal and ILH president Anthony Ramos, Kamehameha athletic director and ILH Board of Athletic Directors president Blane Gaison, Iolani co-athletic director Judy Hiramoto and Pac-Five athletic director John Hom.
Despite the outcome, Lloyd said the meeting was "interestingly productive" and generated ideas regarding parity.
"At least the issue was brought to light and it stimulated discussion looking for parity," Lloyd said. "Everyone was very honest and there was a lot of open dialogue. We were all hoping to see a resolution, but unfortunately, the proposals were not acceptable to Damien and we came out maintaining our stand."
Hiramoto said the issue is complex and that she has empathy for Damien's situation.
"We understand their enrollment is small and it's hard for them," Hiramoto said. "Parity in the league is something we've always been grappling with, because the schools in our league are very different in numbers and it's tough for everyone to compete at the same level."
Punahou football coach Kale Ane said he also understands Damien's plight but wishes there were more time to come up with a solution.
"If this had been brought up earlier, then maybe the meetings could have included the coaches as well," Ane said. "I think we could have come up with ideas that could have helped the situation. It's unfortunate it's come to this."
Some Damien parents and players say the step is unnecessary.
"Every single boy on the team wants to play," said Lua Tuiasosopo, Tuese's mother. "They cannot use St. Louis as an excuse as to why they betrayed our sons. The boys should have had the final decision. They put on the helmets, they put on the shoulder pads. Let them decide. Not the ones sitting in the air-conditioned office, with the white shirt and tie."
Lloyd said some parents actually support the decision. Erin Tagupa, whose son, Brad, was a sophomore defensive lineman last year, said she favored the decision but not the procedure.
"I am concerned about the safety of our boys," Tagupa said. "(But) I'm disappointed in the administration and the coaching staff for not talking to the boys first. They should not have heard this for the first time on TV."