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5 will sue OIA to let Kahuku play football

    Kahuku High School football player Christopher Thee, left, led his teammates in prayer yesterday during a news conference outside the Honolulu office of lawyer Eric Seitz. A crowd of about 250 red-clad Kahuku supporters traveled from the North Shore to listen as Seitz announced that he is filing a lawsuit to fight an Oahu Interscholastic Association decision that would keep the Kahuku team out of the state championships.

  • “I’m sure the OIA will change their ruling and change the decision on what they did to our team, and we’ll have a chance to play.”
    Evan Moe
    Quarterback, Kahuku High School
    Seitz spoke to reporters about a lawsuit he is filing for the team against the Oahu Interscholastic Association.
    Mark Pascual, age 5, above, was in the crowd of Kahuku High School football supporters yesterday outside the office of lawyer Eric Seitz.

He quarterbacked the finest high school team in Hawaii this fall.

Now, Evan Moe has taken his offense to another level.

Moe, a senior who guided Kahuku to a 10-0 record, is a co-plaintiff in a lawsuit to be filed this morning against the Oahu Interscholastic Association, the Hawaii High School Athletic Association and state Schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi.

The intent? To supersede an OIA ruling, allowing the Red Raiders to play in the state football tournament that starts Friday.

OIA Football Coordinator Harold Tanaka declined comment, noting that he and Executive Director Dwight Toyama are bound to legalities. "I can’t comment on this," Tanaka said yesterday afternoon. "It’s with the attorneys."

The suit was announced yesterday by attorney Eric Seitz, who is working pro bono on behalf of Moe, his brother Sterling Moe and Jamal Napeahi. Parents Delsa Moe and Joseph Napeahi are also listed as plaintiffs because the players are minors.

The legal angle was a brainchild of parents, former players and other supporters who have been riled up since Friday when the OIA ruled that the Red Raiders had used an ineligible player during the season. Kahuku was prohibited from playing in the league championship game against Mililani on Friday night and is done for the season.

According to Seitz, the player ruled ineligible had bounced between eighth and ninth grade and had never played football until this season, not realizing that he was, technically, a fifth-year senior.

"Adults made mistakes, and kids are being required to pay for it and that is simply an outrageous situation," Seitz said. "There was no fault by any of these people. There was really only minimal responsibility by anybody at Kahuku High School for what happened. The situation that occurred was simply something that could not be avoided. For the OIA to have taken the action that it took, basically to bring down the death penalty for a minor infraction, is something that we simply cannot tolerate."

Seitz disputed the notion of a hard and fast rule regarding eligibility issues.

"All that we’ve heard is that ‘a rule is a rule,’ but as we read the rules, there’s ample discretion on the part of the OIA to have dealt with the situation with a much more sensible and reasonable manner and they chose not to do it for whatever reasons and motivations," he said. "If reason is to prevail here, that we’ll get an injunction or alternatively, if the adults that were responsible would sit down with us and talk with us, we might be able to reach a compromise solution that would meet everybody’s needs.

"We’re not here to encourage people to use ineligible players on the field, in games or take advantage of competitive situations unfairly. We want a reasonable solution to what amounts to a clerical error. If we cannot do that, that says something about our school system and something about our state, which will reflect badly on all of us.

"The rule that’s been cited is that the OIA ‘may take action,’" Seitz added. "I disagree that there has been no precedence, and I disagree that the rule is black and white. … They’re wrong. … They have my phone number. They have my cell number. We’re willing to meet with anybody, any time."

Seitz made the announcement during a press conference outside his downtown office yesterday afternoon as a polite, enthusiastic crowd of about 250 red-clad supporters looked on at the Mililani Street mall in downtown Honolulu.

"When he was talking, I was feeling kind of nervous," Evan Moe said, "but I was feeling pretty confident at the end. He sounds pretty smart. He knows what he’s talking about. I’m sure the OIA will change their ruling and change the decision on what they did to our team, and we’ll have a chance to play."

Among the crowd were dozens of members of the Kahuku football team, including co-captain Punga Vea. The wide receiver and all-state candidate was one of three co-captains who made the trek from Kahuku to town on Friday, hoping to participate in the appeal process before the OIA’s rules and sanctioning committee. The players were not allowed into the meeting.

"I just want to play. Right now it’s seeming kind of hopeful that we’ll be able to play," said Vea, a senior. "If it doesn’t turn out the way we want, life goes on, but it would be nice to play."

HHSAA Executive Director Christopher Chun declined comment, for the most part.

"We’re obligated to accept the teams that the OIA names or provides," he said of the three Division I teams — Mililani, Leilehua and Waianae — that qualified for the HHSAA’s state tourney. "I am interested to see what basis (Seitz) has to name the HHSAA as a defendant since it wasn’t our ruling."

Kahuku earned a record of 10-0 and ranked No. 1 in the Star-Advertiser Top 10 at the time of the OIA ruling, which was made just hours before the Red Raiders were to play Mililani for the Red title.

The team thought Friday the season was over, but it has different plans now.

"We’re gonna go back to practice" today, senior linebacker T.J. Tito said. "Stay in shape just in case we have a shot. I hope our coaches are there, but if not we’ll just practice on our own, do what we can."

If not, seniors like Tito hope so-called "clerical errors" are eliminated soon.

"We don’t want this to happen to any other school in the future," he said. "For this to happen to any other school, it would be heartbreaking."

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