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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, April 13, 2002

UH-Hilo boosters club ceases operations

By Hugh Clark
Advertiser Big Island Bureau

HILO, HAWAI'I — The University of Hawai'i at Hilo Boosters Club that helped launch small college sports in Hawai'i decided to dissolve yesterday, according to founding member and current president Harvey Tajiri.

That means UHH, which won seven national volleyball championships and made four national tournament appearances in men's basketball, is on its own in fund-raising with a downsizing state government that has told returning UHH athletes they can expect a two-thirds cut in scholarship support.

The issue centers on new UH president Evan Dobelle, who has suggested Division I status for UHH at a time when it is struggling to sustain a Division II level in most of its sports. The Vulcans field a Division I baseball team.

UHH Hall of Fame member Dr. Wallace Chong said he believes the school's sports budget has been overspent by 100 percent.

The suggestion of going to the next level and requesting more sports programs is "simply ludicrous," he said. "We can't do a decent job Division II and he wants to go Division I. How delusional."

Dobelle was unavailable for comment.

Coaches and athletic officials said they could not comment on Tajiri's announcement because Chancellor Rose Tseng, regarded as a strong sports supporter, was off island and unavailable for comment.

UHH athletic director Kathleen McNally, who is serving as interim men's tennis coach after the person she hired was arrested for allegedly growing marijuana in the Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, also was off island and unavailable.

Most veteran UHH officials, including volleyball coach Sharon Peterson, who was about to resign before she was asked to stay by Tseng, and current assistant athletic director Jim DeMello, a one-time governor's liaison in Hilo, declined to comment.

However, Peterson's team, composed of mostly returning players, went to the UHH student senate yesterday to complain about sharp losses in scholarship money.

"We have been fighting this battle for so long," said Tajiri, who was a booster founder and served as its charter president before his career in politics — first as county councilman and Big Island council chairman and later in the state house for four terms.

"There has been little communication between the current athletic director with the feelings of the booster board," he said.

Traditionally, the booster club held a fund-raiser to sustain scholarships in the spring of each year. None has been announced for this year.

How much money the booster club contributes to UHH athletics was unavailable.

In addition to financing, the booster club operates ticket booths, gates, souvenir stands and refreshment booths.

UHH fields nine varsity sports: baseball, men's basketball, women's volleyball, softball, men's and women's cross country, men's and women's tennis and men's golf.