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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, August 19, 2003

When covering sports is no longer a game

A venerable sportswriter of yesteryear gratefully observed that he was working full time in "the toy department of life." There are times, however, when the games end and serious public policy issues begin.

For example, in an incisive and no-nonsense report on Aug. 5, Advertiser columnist Ferd Lewis eviscerated the notion that University of Hawai'i football coach June Jones had the right to insist that the terms of his record-breaking contract be kept secret.

The fact remains that Jones is a public employee. That he'll be making (if he signs his contract) more money than any other public employee in Hawai'i has ever made argues more, not less, strongly for full disclosure of how much Jones will receive and where it will come from.

The state Office of Information Practices agrees, and UH President Evan Dobelle was quick to respond that UH will comply.

In another controversy that goes far beyond the sports page, Lewis and sports writer Stacy Kaneshiro have brought into sharp focus a dispute between Gov. Linda Lingle and the Department of Education that threatens cutbacks in high-school sports.

Lingle has ordered a budget cut at the DOE, and Schools Superintendent Pat Hamamoto says some of the blood-letting involves the possibility of cutting sports, perhaps even some state championships.

At a recent meeting on the subject convened by Lingle, DOE's representative, athletics administrator Dwight Toyama, was noticeably missing. The DOE didn't allow him to attend, Lingle claimed: "They didn't want him to get accurate information."

That kind of invective isn't helpful, especially since Hamamoto insists she would have sent him "if they asked me."

Critics of our educational system have long held that the DOE is a welter of "waste, fraud and abuse," so any budget cut ordered by a governor should touch nothing but fat.

But the DOE has endured a long series of budget cuts in recent years, and most of the statistics we've seen suggest Hawai'i's public schools now have a much lower proportion of desk jockeys to teachers than those of other states.

We realize there's a faction of die-hard sports fans out there who think high schools exist to bring them games to attend. And we wholeheartedly endorse sports programs as long as we can afford them. But we agree with Hamamoto that when push comes to budgetary shove, games are more expendable than classroom academic programs.