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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, August 2, 2009

Amemiya always at the forefront

by Ferd Lewis

After buttonholing acquaintances and beseeching friends to get the ball rolling on a $1.2 million effort to help save sports in Hawai'i public high schools, Keith Amemiya joked that, "I'll be lucky if anybody takes my calls ever again."

Actually, his biggest fear now should be that everybody will ask him to do their fundraising.

Amemiya is the executive director of the Hawai'i High School Athletic Association, the group that oversees and operates state championships for 95 schools, public and private, in the state. Fundraising for the whole state is not part of his job description, but, to the increasing benefit of the state's athletes and coaches, it has become his self-appointed mission.

And, so far, with approximately $475,000 said to have been raised, it is Mission: Possible.

"We're in a crisis," Amemiya said. "My thinking is the HHSAA is only as strong as the schools that belong to it. If we (the HHSAA) are in the black and half the schools are dropping sports, it makes no sense."

Amemiya has done this before in less dire circumstances. He helped put Roosevelt High and the NFL together in what would become a landmark, for Hawai'i high schools, $4.5 million public-private sector partnership that delivered a state-of-the-art artificial surface track and field for the Rough Riders and the schools that share it.

Then, there was the 2002 doubleheader that brought national football powers De La Salle (Concord, Calif.) and Long Beach (Calif.) Poly here to play Kahuku and Saint Louis.

His most ambitious effort yet is the ongoing drive to raise $1.2 million in donations to put back into public schools what state budget slashings would take away this year. A considerable challenge in even the best of times, it is now a task made more arduous by an economy that has hit hard the list of even usually well-heeled sponsors.

Yet, the sponsorships are still trickling in and so are the checks from individuals who have been inspired by the cause.

Perhaps one of the reasons Amemiya is able to convince people to give is that he does so by example, putting his moolah where his mouth is. He and wife Bonny pitched in $20,000 of their own to underwrite the Roosevelt High scoreboard. Now, they have come back with $30,000 for the current drive, $20,000 of which is earmarked to be split between two of the hardest-hit schools, Moloka'i and Lana'i.

The high school sports year is only just about to begin and already we have an idea who the MVP of it is likely to be.