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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, November 14, 2009

Amemiya to step down

By Wes Nakama
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Keith Amemiya

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The search to replace Hawai'i High School Athletic Association executive director Keith Amemiya will be a huge challenge and is likely to include Mainland candidates, top officials said yesterday.

Amemiya, 44, publicly announced yesterday that he plans to step down from his post by the end of this school year.

"There are several options that I'm currently contemplating once I leave my position, but for now I'm planning on taking a little bit of a break and spending more time with my family," Amemiya said in an e-mail to The Advertiser yesterday morning.

Since taking over the helm of the HHSAA Hawai'i's governing body for prep sports and facilitator of all state tournaments as a surprise hire in 1998, Amemiya has been a force of change in local high school athletics, most notably:

• Creating a classification system for state tournaments allowing smaller schools a window to compete for state titles;

• Initiating a football state tournament that includes Neighbor Island representation;

• Adding state tournaments in sports like judo, air riflery, canoe paddling and cheerleading, to the point where Hawai'i now leads the nation in number of state tournament events;

• Spearheading the HHSAA's "SOS" (Save Our Sports) campaign, which has raised over $1.3 million in the past three months to help offset drastic budget cuts to public school athletic programs;

• Setting in motion the installation of a state-of-the-art artificial surface field at Roosevelt's Ticky Vasconcellos Stadium, the first project of its kind at a Hawai'i public school.

Amemiya said a search committee has been formed and O'ahu Interscholastic Association executive director Dwight Toyama said the job opening is expected to be posted next month, with March being a target date for the new person to be hired.

Toyama said he would not be surprised to see over 100 applications come in, since the job will be posted on the National Federation of State High School Associations web site. But he added that even with a big pool, finding the right candidate will be challenging.

"It's a big loss, big shoes to fill," said Toyama, whose OIA is the state's largest league with 29 schools. "It's going to be tough for the next person stepping in, probably tougher than (for) any other guy we've had when you consider the economic situation we face and the standards and bar that Keith set."

Toyama should know, since he was HHSAA executive director himself in 1996 and 1997.

Toyama said when Amemiya took over in 1998, the organization "was still in the infant stages" of being autonomous after decades of attachment to the state's Department of Education.

The autonomy forced Amemiya an attorney by trade to find more title sponsors for state tournaments and develop new revenue streams to support the organization, whose membership involves 95 schools.

Also, Title IX gender equity issues were coming to the forefront, making Amemiya's legal background valuable.

Beyond that, Amemiya deftly handled unexpected challenges like the 2001 public school teachers' strike and the recent budget cuts that reduced public schools' state allocations by over 36 percent, while implementing new facets like classification and a football doubleheader featuring Mainland powers De La Salle (Concord, Calif.) and Long Beach (Calif.) Poly against local juggernauts Saint Louis and Kahuku.

Bill Arakaki, the DOE's Kaua'i Complex area superintendent and liaison for athletics, said Amemiya has demonstrated "adaptive leadership."

"In that job, you need to be adaptive because he's facing different problems and challenges all the time," Arakaki said. "Keith is able to be creative and think outside the box. He's really been supportive of the Neighbor Islands and the smaller schools on O'ahu, and we've seen the benefits of Division II. We'll really miss him."

Datahouse chairman Dan Arita, whose Honolulu-based high-tech consulting firm has been a major tournament sponsor throughout Amemiya's tenure, said Amemiya's successor will need all of his skills and maybe even more.

"You gotta have both a business mind and knowledge of athletics, and the next (few years) will be even tougher," Arita said. "You need someone with an entrepreneural spirit and somebody with a broad vision."

Toyama said "fund-raising and (knowledge of) legal aspects would help," but other qualities also are necessary.

"I think you need a balance, you need that connection to high school athletes," said Toyama, who has been a coach/administrator for the past 35 years. "It's a tough job, with the staff and resources you have to work with. But No. 1 is the service you are providing to the student-athletes.

"The students need to come first."

Read his blog on high school sports at http://preptalk.honadvblogs.com.