Baldwin playing for high stakes
By Ferd Lewis
Not to put any pressure on Baldwin High in the First Hawaiian Bank/Hawai'i High School Athletic Association State Football Championships, you understand, but it is playing for more than just the maroon and blue now.
The Bears are playing for more than Maui Interscholastic League pride, too. They are playing for a heapin' helpin' of history.
No Neighbor Island team has won a state football title. Heck, nobody has even gotten to the championship game in what has been, for six years, an annual O'ahu Interscholastic Association vs. Interscholastic League of Honolulu showdown. For the longest time, it was assumed none would, either.
So, when the Bears got the No. 2 seed — the highest ever bestowed upon a non-O'ahu team and one befitting their 11-0 record — and a first-round bye, they gained a sizeable — and growing — rooting interest.
They became not only the chief representative of Division I football life beyond O'ahu, but strangely for the state's only unbeaten squad, they also took on the role of underdogs.
Before the advent of state playoffs, the O'ahu Prep Bowl passed for the unofficial state championship. Not always with the approval of Neighbor Island teams who, while conceding that O'ahu usually did have the better squads, liked to believe it wasn't as annually automatic as we liked to assume. Sort of like the rest of the world views the United States crowning its champion in the "World" Series of baseball.
Neighbor islanders have sometimes wondered how their better teams might have fared in a postseason tournament. Like the 11-1 and 10-1 Konawaena teams of the early 1980s, for example.
With more and more players from the Neighbor Islands getting major college scholarships, the feeling has been that the gap is narrowing.
Baldwin has been in the tournament with good teams before — 11-2 in 1999, 8-2 in 2002 and 10-2 in 2003 — and twice gotten to the semis, though not beyond.
But the table has never been set so well for any Neighbor Island team as it is this time on a couple of counts. First, there is no dominating power going in the way there has usually been in the past. Some good teams to be sure, but nobody you knew from August on that was certain to win it all as was often the case with either Kahuku or Saint Louis. Even the defending champion, Kamehameha Schools, isn't around at the tournament's opening.
Now, by virtue of their opening-round bye this weekend and 20 days between games, the Bears have had the opportunity to rest and do a lot of scouting. First Monday's Saint Louis-Punahou ILH title contest and, now, Saturday's 'Aiea-Punahou first-round game.
When the Bears got the No. 2 seed, they got the respect due them. As a bonus, they also got the opportunity and burden of history that comes with it.
Reach Ferd Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 525-8044.