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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Trying to get by, and be competitive, with less

By Wes Nakama
Advertiser Staff Writer

Even a recent downpour couldn't dampen the spirits of a group of parents at St. Francis School in Manoa. They are building this on-campus softball practice field so the school can resurrect a program that was disbanded three years ago because of a falloff in participation.

Photographs by Cory Lum • The Honolulu Advertiser

Let's see, if it's Tuesday, then Maryknoll High School's boys basketball team must be practicing at ... First Chinese Church in Makiki. Or is it the YBA gym in Nu'uanu? Maybe it's Palama Settlement.

Or the Spartans could be practicing on campus, unless it rains, then they are in a classroom watching game film, or in the weight room working out.

At small private schools like Maryknoll (enrollment 570), practice sites can be hard to come by. And expensive. The gym-less Spartans must not only rent indoor court space, but also pay for bus transportation to get there.

"There is a cost and time factor," Maryknoll athletic director Pattie Heatherly said. "I found out that schools that have their own gyms usually have two-hour practices, but sometimes we're lucky to get one hour. We're at the mercy of whomever we're renting from, and the parents really have to be organized as far as knowing where their kids are practicing each day."

The Spartans' softball team is fortunate enough to have one practice site — but it's a couple of miles away at Mo'ili'ili Field.

St. Francis School in Manoa (enrollment 423) has its own indoor facility, but it's not a gym. The "Troubadome" is a tent-like structure donated by the State Farm Fair after it moved its location from McKinley Fairgrounds to Aloha Stadium in the 1990s.

Until two months ago, the surface inside the Troubadome was asphalt, just like an outdoor court. But the school recently received $20,000 in grants and installed a "Sports Court" synthetic surface more appropriate for volleyball and basketball.

"We're very grateful," St. Francis athletic director Carey Won said. "Psychologically, I think it makes a big difference for the kids. It's something different."

In past years, St. Francis' volleyball and basketball teams also would borrow gym space from First Chinese Church, Holy Nativity Church in 'Aina Haina, Damien and St. Louis. Its softball team (combined with Hawai'i Baptist and St. Andrew's) practices at Kamamalu Park next to the Nu'uanu YMCA.

And the soccer players, who play for Pac-Five, practice at Kapi'olani Park.

To get to practice every day, these athletes pile into a school van driven by Won himself or another driver.

On a recent Wednesday, Won had to drive the softball team to a scrimmage in Kailua, then immediately returned to campus and took St. Francis soccer players to practice at Kapi'olani.

"I wouldn't doubt we'd have a better turnout if we had our own (facilities)," Won said.

That is why a group of St. Francis parents have been dedicating their weekends to building a softball field on campus. Won said the school had its own softball team four years ago but it disbanded the following year because of a small turnout.

Part of the creativity required when you're a small school like St. Francis is turning a tent-like structure donated by the State Farm Fair into an on-campus gym. The "Troubadome" now has a new synthetic surface.
"After that, no one took care of the field," Won said.

This year, parents used their contacts in the construction industry to borrow heavy equipment and then rolled up their sleeves to do the dirty work — digging trenches, shoveling dirt, planting grass.

When finished, the field still won't be regulation-size, so the team won't play any home games there. But at least it will have a place to practice, and a batting cage also will be built nearby.

"It's worked out well so far," Won said. "The parents have donated their time, and there's no way we would be able to afford all this if we had to pay for it ourselves."

Many of the things taken for granted at larger schools are not at smaller ones. For example, Hawai'i Baptist is fielding a boys soccer team for the first time in 20 years. It practices at Makiki District Park.

HBA's swimmers train at Mid-Pacific Institute's pool, and its wrestlers practice at University High's cafeteria.

Like other small schools, Hawai'i Baptist (enrollment 423) not only suffers from lack of facilities, but also from a lack of depth.

"Because we're small, we rely on a lot of multi-sport athletes to keep our programs strong," HBA athletic director Deren Oshiro said. "The talent comes in cycles, and we had a pretty good girls volleyball team this year. But if we lose our starting middle blocker to an injury, for us that's a really big deal. At a bigger school, one player might not make as big a difference, but for us it does."

Just as one player makes a big difference, so does one donation. When many people hear the term "private schools," they envision places with deep resources like Kamehameha, Punahou or Iolani. But the smaller schools in the same league must struggle to compete financially.

"For a small school, even a small amount makes a lot of difference," said Sergio Robles, an assistant principal at St. Francis.

Won said Damien donated a Paramont fitness machine to the St. Francis weight room, and a Boy Scouts troop painted the small athletic department building as a community project.

But he said fund-raising still is a constant activity for the Troubadours.

"We have to scrap for everything — doing car washes, selling phone books ..." Won said. "That's the struggles of a small school."

More help could be on the way, as a constitutional amendment passed in last month's election will allow private schools to sell tax-free bonds for capital improvement projects.

That potentially could help Maryknoll build the gym it has waited 75 years for.

In the meantime, the Spartans will have to live up to their name.

"We definitely have challenges," Heatherly said. "We don't have some of the things the bigger schools have. We just have to be more creative."