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Judge turns back Kahuku’s bid for state playoffs

A state judge denied this afternoon a request for a court order to allow the Kahuku High School football team to play in the state championships, which begin Friday.

Circuit Judge Karl Sakamoto told the courtroom overflowing with Kahuku football supporters that there is “terrible irreparable harm” to the team members and that he knows it’s a “hard decision” for the Kahuku players and supporters.

But he said he cannot conclude that the three football players and their parents who sought the injunction would eventually prevail in their lawsuit.

The players and parents filed the lawsuit yesterday alleging that their due process rights were violated by the Oahu Interscholastic Association’s decision last week that the school had to forfeit games because of an ineligible player.

The decision canceled the OIA championship game between Kahuku and Mililani Friday night and left Kahuku out of the state playoffs.

Sakamoto’s decision came after a four-hour hearing.

Kahuku High School principal Donna Lindsey testified this morning that a player on the football team had been promoted to ninth grade erroneously, resulting in his ineligible status this year.

But Lindsey said she didn’t think it was fair for the OIA to rule that Kahuku had to forfeit football games and be eliminated from the OIA playoffs and state championship.

“I think that because it was an error and it was made by adults, I don’t think the students should suffer and be penalized,” she said.

She said the student was erroneously promoted to the ninth grade for the 2006-2007 school year when he was actually should have been promoted the following year.

 Because he entered ninth grade five years ago, he was deemed ineligible this year because OIA rules specify players are eligible for four consecutive years starting in the ninth grade.

Lawyers for the students and parents said in their lawsuit that the student was briefly enrolled in the ninth grade, then went back to the eighth grade.

 OIA officials testified that after Lindsey reported the infraction, they convened a rules committee meeting on Thursday and another meeting among 31 OIA high school principals the following day. Only two principals did not show up.

“In all fairness to Kahuku, the decision would be made as soon as possible,” Dwight Toyama, OIA executive director, testified.

  He said the committee as well as the principals relied on Lindsey’s report that the student had enrolled in the 2006-2007 year.

“It was determined Friday that the investigation was thorough and complete,” Toyama testified.

He said in the past, other teams that used ineligible players had to forfeit games.

Only three schools voted against forfeiture: Kahuku, Castle and Anuenue, according to Elden Esmeralda, Kapolei High School principal and head of the six-member committee that found Kahuku had to forfeit the games.

He said there’s no discretion and a team that uses an ineligible player must forfeit the games.

Evan Moe, a Kahuku High senior and football player, testified that the OIA’s decision hurt his and his teammates’ chances for college and scholarships because scouts watch the playoffs.

“I felt that the decision was made too fast,” he testified.  “We should have been able to play Friday night.”

Attorney Della Au Belatti, who represented the players and parents, urged Sakamoto to grant the injunction to allow Kahuku in the playoffs. She disputed the testimony that the OIA had no discretion in the case.

She said as indicated to Lindsey at one point, if the meeting among all principals had been scheduled for the following week, Kahuku could have played Mililani and the determination of sanctions could be made later.

“Somewhere in the deliberations, that was yanked off the table,” she said.

She argued that the Kahuku team played by the rules and that its principal followed the rules by notifying the OIA about ineligibility.

“We believe this action taken by the OIA is excessive and unreasonable,” she told the judge.

OIA attorney Lyle Hosoda told the judge the OIA is obligated to enforce the rule that a team must forfeit games involving an ineligible player. It’s a rule that’s followed by high schools and colleges around the country, he said.

Hosoda said there was no evidence presented that any team that used an ineligible player was not subject to forfeiture.

“There is no discretion,” he said.

Hosoda said the principals met on Friday on short notice because they knew Kahuku wanted “everything vetted,” and in their “collective wisdom” the principals upheld the committee’s forfeiture finding.

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