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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 21, 2006

Girls’ state hoops takes center stage

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

Watching the Hawaiian Airlines/Hawai'i High School Athletic Association 30th annual girls basketball state championships it is almost hard to believe the event was once on the front line of a gender equity battle that made the scraps under the boards Friday night seem tame.

To see the crowds at the Stan Sheriff Center and McKinley High Gym, the enthusiasm and poignancy, this past week was to know the event has found a home where there were once nagging doubts and lawsuits at the ready.

To glimpse an atmosphere where 24 teams, champions and contenders alike, reveled in their moments in the spotlight suggests the HHSAA and its officials are delivering on promises of six and seven years earlier and female athletes are getting their due.

For it was back in 1999 and 2000 that the idea of an honest-to-goodness girls state tournament in the spring provoked charges of second-class status. How, it was reasoned, could boys playing their tournament in the traditional February slot and the girls appearing in May be fair and equal?

The problem with sharing the same dates was the limited gym space for playing and practicing for the many levels of boys and girls teams meant headaches for all. If the boys had dibs on the better venues and the girls got what was left, where was the fairness? If they went head-to-head in the midst of college basketball season could either really thrive?

The so-called "separate-but-equal" argument raised more red flags than a May Day parade in Tiananmen Square.

And, you could see the point. In too many applications, "separate but equal" has had more to do with separate than equal. It has been a device to do what was solely expedient or cheap, thinly masking discrimination.

In the case of basketball, the fear was that it was a lame excuse to shove the girls off to some convenient puka on the calendar and give them something less than that to which they were entitled by the law.

Perhaps the complaints and threats of more by Title IX advocates sufficiently put the powers that be on notice. But you'd like to believe that maybe a sense of responsibility and fair play had prevailed, too. That giving girls real opportunity and a worthy stage was an idea whose time had come and officials were dedicated to the task.

Whether it was the former, the latter or a combination thereof, the 2006 version of the state tournament has been one of the best examples yet of what a girls tournament can — and should — be.

For four nights, remarkable for any of the HHSAA championships, the girls had prime time cable visibility, plenty of sports page space and a place in sports talk around town. Instead of sharing a stage, they had one of their own and they ran with the opportunity, making the most of it.

After all, can some of the best crowds and best performances in state history be wrong about what this has become?

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8044.