Small-school football gets lift from top sports official
By Dennis Anderson
Advertiser Staff Writer
A state football championship for small schools maybe it is an idea whose time has come.
Or maybe it is a recipe for financial disaster.
Hawai'i's top high school sports official is so confident a second football tournament will be embraced by fans that he and his wife are offering to personally cover any losses so that it can happen this year.
A prominent Big Island athletic director calls it a "win-win situation" that would help football and other sports as well.
But the top official in O'ahu's public school league is concerned about whether such a tournament would pay for itself.
"I'm not confident it will even break even," Dwight Toyama, executive secretary of the O'ahu Interscholastic Association, said yesterday.
Votes by Toyama's OIA narrowly defeated the proposal last year.
Keith Amemiya, executive director of the Hawai'i High School Athletic Association, and his wife, Bonny, have promised to personally underwrite the tournament.
They also addressed gender equity concerns about adding a second boys football championship by pledging to personally donate $20,000 to pay for transportation of Neighbor Island teams to state softball and girls basketball tournaments on O'ahu in 2004.
Lyle Crozier, athletic director at 17-time Big Island football champion Ko-nawaena High, strongly supports a small-school football tournament. Big Island representatives are 0-4 and have been outscored 155-22 in the four years of the current single division format.
"There have been so many lopsided games. A small-school tournament would be more competitive, so more people would come to see games and the income would help other sports," said Crozier, who spoke after a meeting with parents struggling to raise funds for Konawaena's girls basketball team to come to O'ahu for its state tournament in two weeks. Konawaena has 869 students.
The proposal, drafted by Amemiya and Don Botelho, chairman of the state football committee, will be presented to the annual meeting of the state's athletic directors on Maui on June 11-13.
Toyama yesterday said that the current single eight-team tournament has generated declining income.
"Our schools each got $4,000 the first year and only $2,000 last year," he said.
"It's not like we're against it," Toyama said. "But we ask, would it be financially feasible? Each year, the income has been less and less. Division II might cut into the net even more."
Amemiya countered that his proposal was for a one-year trial "that is totally separate from Division I, and if it doesn't make money, it's over with. That's where my guarantee comes in, to ensure no school is adversely affected."
Kalaheo principal James Schlosser, noting that Hawai'i is the only state without classification in football, said a "Division II" state tournament would be welcomed by small schools such as his (1,042 students).
Powerhouses Saint Louis and Kahuku, annual contenders for national rankings, have each won two of the four state championships held since the state tournament replaced the O'ahu Prep Bowl in 1999.
Amemiya's proposal calls for the state's five leagues to decide which of their teams should be in each division, but reserves final decision for the HHSAA football committee so that no league could "stack" a tournament.
Enrollment would be just one factor deciding where a school goes. The OIA has operated divisions based on team's prior records not enrollment for more than a decade.
Kahuku, one of the state's medium-sized public schools with 1,284 students, would be in Division I based on its two state and seven league championships in the past 10 years.
Moanalua and Pearl City, among the largest schools with more than 2,000 students, might be in Division II, as they have never qualified for the highest OIA division.
Amemiya said of his family's decision to donate $20,000 to help girls softball and basketball teams travel, "although the contribution takes quite a chunk out of our personal savings, I strongly believe that you sometimes have to be willing to make personal sacrifices for the greater good of the community."
Another proposal, to split all state tournaments into public- and private-school championships, appears to have little support.