By Ferd Lewis
Was it really just a couple of years ago when the state's biggest high school football showcase, the O'ahu Prep Bowl aka the St. Louis School Invitational had become such an airtight lock that it was in danger of suffocating the sport?
Was it seemingly only yesterday when St. Louis and Kahuku ruled their respective private and public school fiefs with an iron fist and long shadow?
Once upon a not-so-distant time the domination was so complete that you could have set the championship matchup in concrete by Halloween, if not Labor Day. And because of this predictability, a lot of people were concerned about the future of the sport here.
But a look at the playoff pairings this year suggests a new leaf has been turned with a refreshingly wide-open race, something once viewed as likely to occur as a return to $1-a-gallon gas prices.
Indeed, consider that the O'ahu Interscholastic Association knew by the conclusion of the quarterfinals last weekend that it would have a champion other than Kahuku or Wai'anae for the first time since 1983.
And, if Kamehameha (9-0), now the top-ranked team in the state, beats St. Louis Saturday, the Interscholastic League of Honolulu will have somebody other than the Crusaders representing it in the postseason for the first time in 17 years and only the second time in 20 seasons.
Now, nobody expects St. Louis, Kahuku or Wai'anae to go the way of the dinosaurs and it might not be quite NFL-style parity that we have now, but it is a definite change for the better.
In this, we have both some progressive coaches and maybe even the past dominators themselves to thank.
While the powers-that-were handed out lickings on a weekly basis, they were also forcing others to raise the level of their competitiveness or get buried even deeper. While the once mighty were stuffing their trophy cases, they also offered blueprints for others to follow.
To judge from the offenses being run, the number of passes being thrown and the defenses being drawn up to counter them, attitudes and approaches have changed significantly.
After years of watching St. Louis' run-and-shoot offense carve up opponents, even the most dedicated three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust adherent had to make changes or risk falling further behind. Couple that with what June Jones & Co. have wrought in four seasons at the University of Hawai'i and small wonder more offenses are diversifying.
You wonder what lessons gleaned from watching De La Salle and Long Beach Poly might be showing up soon.
In the meantime, this season has brought back an element of unpredictability that has, for too long, been missing from high school football.