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OIA stands by Kahuku forfeitures

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM
    Kahuku High quarterback Evan Moe -- a plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the school's removal from the state tournament -- took a snap at practice yesterday.
  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM
    Kahuku players took a warm-up jog during practice.
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The Oahu Interscholastic Association will oppose a request before a state judge this morning to allow Kahuku High School to participate in the state high school football championships starting Friday.

Three Kahuku football players and their parents filed a lawsuit yesterday challenging the OIA’s decision last week to bar the school from the playoffs because it had to forfeit games over an ineligible player.

The suit said innocent team members and others would be unduly harmed by an "inadvertent clerical error."

Lyle Hosoda, the OIA’s lawyer, said Kahuku High was allowed to present its side before the forfeiture decision.

"It’s a situation that is unfortunate and regrettable," he said. "We have to apply the rules uniformly and equally to all."

The Hawaii High School Athletic Association will also oppose the request, according to its attorney, Joseph Stewart.

He said allowing Kahuku to participate would be "catastrophic" in terms of extending the state playoffs and rescheduling games.

Circuit Judge Karl Sakamoto is scheduled at 8:30 a.m. to hear the request for an injunction that would allow Kahuku to compete.

The stunning announcement came Friday that the state’s top-ranked, undefeated team would have to forfeit games and not be allowed in the playoffs. It resulted in the cancellation of the OIA championship game between Kahuku and Mililani that evening.

Some 250 Kahuku High supporters showed up Sunday for a press conference outside the downtown law office of Eric Seitz, who announced he would be filing the suit.

Kahuku football players Evan and Sterling Moe and Jamal Napeahi and their parents filed the suit yesterday against the OIA, the HHSAA and schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi.

The attorney general’s office declined comment yesterday.

The lawsuit says the error involved a player who was in ninth grade for a brief period before he was transferred back to eighth grade.

He went back to Kahuku the following year, the attorneys said.

But under OIA rules a student can be eligible for only four consecutive years "upon entry to the ninth grade," which would mean he would not be eligible this year because of his initial ninth-grade enrollment five years ago.

The lawsuit and supporting papers described the student as a "minor" player who was academically ineligible until he played on the team for the first time this season.

The OIA, the suit’s lawyers said, has handled other incidents in "far less draconian" ways than "penalizing the entire team comprised of entirely innocent student athletes."

They said the OIA refused to hear the players’ and parents’ side of the controversy before the organization made its decision. The refusal, the suit said, violated their rights to due process under the state and federal constitutions.

Della Au Belatti, a member of Seitz’s law firm who will handle the case, said yesterday that they were still seeking a "flexible solution" that would avoid litigation and still allow Kahuku in the playoffs.

But after Sakamoto met the lawyers privately in chambers in the afternoon, the OIA and HHSAA lawyers said they opposed the request for an injunction.

Hosoda said Kahuku High Principal Donna Lindsey reported that the ineligible player participated in a number of games, including against Radford High, which meant the cancellation of the OIA championship game against Mililani High.

Hosoda said the exact number of games Kahuku must forfeit was still under investigation.

According to the OIA, a rules committee found on Thursday that Kahuku used an ineligible player and should forfeit the games he played in.

The OIA principals upheld that decision the next day.

Hosoda said the vote by the principals was "nearly unanimous," with Kahuku voting against the forfeiture.

"I thought the OIA did everything possible to accommodate Kahuku," Hosoda said.

He said one problem with allowing Kahuku to participate in the playoffs is that other communities would be upset.

"For example, Waianae is now in the state championship," he said. "If Kahuku is allowed to play, Waianae will not play, and I think we will be hearing from the west side instead of the north side. They’re all under our umbrella."

 

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