If there is one thing you can bank on in the First Hawaiian Bank/Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division II Football State Championships, it is ‘Iolani School.
Over and over and over and, yes, over again.
The Raiders won their fourth consecutive state title and did it so convincingly last night with a 49-14 rout of Kaimuki that the only question remaining at Aloha Stadium was:
When do they retire the trophy?
If you are counting — and it is hard not to at this point — the Raiders have won five of the past six titles and been to the finals six times in the eight-year history of the division. All glowing testament to the system put in place by head coach Wendell Look and his staff and the culture of excellence that has taken hold among the players.
Together, they made this one the easiest of all, running over a good Bulldogs team that had won 12 in a row since a season-opening loss to D-I semifinalist Mililani. It was the best indication yet of how much the Raiders (9-3) have outgrown D-II and how the HHSAA and its member leagues need to revisit the classification system currently in place.
To be sure, ‘Iolani has some qualities — roster size and player size, to name two — that place it squarely in the D-II category. But as a well-heeled private school with an all-star coaching staff and track record of domination, it also has a lot that makes it almost a D-I team in sheep’s clothing.
After all, in addition to Chris Naeole and Joel Lane, the Raiders have a former D-I state championship head coach, Delbert Tengan (Saint Louis 2002), as their defensive coordinator.
More and more, the Raiders are like the Boise State of D-II, minus the blue turf of course, with Look as the Chris Petersen of coaches. Last year, it will be remembered, the Raiders handed D-I state champion Kamehameha its only loss.
The Raiders have so maximized what they have and gotten so good at what they do, you get the feeling it is going to take the combination of an uncharacteristic off night on their part and an opponent’s game-of-the-year effort for somebody in D-II to catch them. But don’t bother to hold your breath. Especially with quarterback Reece Foy, who authored an HHSAA state final record five touchdown passes last night, being just a sophomore.
Make no mistake about it, ‘Iolani isn’t seeking to pull a fast one on anybody and it isn’t contorting any rules. The Raiders are just the exceptional example that underlines the cracks in a system that needs some work, if not flexibility.
‘Iolani would best be suited for Division I.V, somewhere between a D-II that has become their province and a more challenging D-I. Ideally, of course, a three-division system, like the one proposed by Kamehameha-Hawaii athletic director Bob Wagner, would cover all the bases, but, for financial reasons, that isn’t likely to happen anytime soon.
In the meantime you hope the high school powers that be will take a long look at a uniform classification system. The one currently in place lets each of the five leagues set their own criteria. A uniform one pegged to enrollment and performance would be an improvement.
The most glaring situation is not so much ‘Iolani, but even biger schools such as Waipahu (enrollment 2,456) and McKinley (1,782) in D-II. They just haven’t managed to succeed at the Raiders’ level.
Already there is talk, we are told, that the Oahu Interscholastic Association and others might get behind an enrollment-based model that uses a 1.5 factor for so-called double gender private schools.
The HHSAA could also put in place a rule whereby any school that wins back-to-back state titles moves up a division. It could, in consideration of ‘Iolani’s circumstance, say that any year the Raiders win two or more games from among ILH large schools Kamehameha, Punahou and Saint Louis, they must re-classify as D-I.
What ‘Iolani has achieved is remarkable and laudable. What the HHSAA needs to do is recognize it by finding a way to give the Raiders more of a challenge from time to time.
Reach Ferd Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org.