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Guerpo goes the extra mile for Hilo cross country team

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The day in April that the University of Hawaii-Hilo announced it was suspending its cross-country program due to budget cuts, coach Jaime Guerpo said he "mourned."

And, the next day, he got up and wrote. And wrote.

He wrote emails to community people and letters to running organizations. He wrote to anybody he felt might have some spare change or an investment in the sport.

He wrote because, even as a part-time coach with another full-time job, "it was my duty" and because his dedication to his athletes and their sport dictated it. "I’ve been coaching for a long time and I couldn’t let something like this slide," Guerpo said.

The Honokaa native’s heartfelt message came through loud and clear, resulting in about $30,000 in contributions so far — enough to bring back the women’s team on a limited basis next month.

It wasn’t Guerpo’s goal — he hoped for $50,000, enough to restore both men’s and women’s cross-country teams — but it was nevertheless a remarkable accomplishment given the short window he had to operate within and the number of others out soliciting funds.

"He told me that he had some great runners and they were willing to forego their scholarships (to compete) and asked if there was any way I could help …" said Carole Kai of the Great Aloha Run, who agreed to write a $20,000 check for operational expenses.

Then, she found out that the 41-year old Guerpo was going without his salary in an attempt to make ends meet. And, she decided to tack on another $5,000.

"I just thought we should really support them," she said.

At a time when schools at all levels are feeling the financial crunch of declining state and institutional support, the non-Division I ones, those without TV, football and major sponsorship money to fall back on, can be among the hardest hit.

"But the great thing about Division II is that it is not just about winning," UH-Hilo athletic director Dexter Irvin said. "it is about the education, the participation and the overall experience that you get at this level."

And about rolling up sleeves for a common purpose and trying to make things work on a frayed shoestring budget. "I think somebody else in (Guerpo’s) position could have ranted and raved and stormed off and, basically, said screw this," Irvin said. "But he didn’t do that. He was strong and endearing and found a way to be successful."

They won’t have a full schedule or much more than a six-member, all-walk-on squad at UH-Hilo. But they will have a team, a season and a cause to rally around and, for the Vulcans, that is a quite a victory.

"One of the great things about great coaches is their passion for the students and the passion for their sport," Irvin said. "And so you have to be appreciative of that because, right now, it can be difficult to find people with that excitement, that love for what they are doing."

In Hilo they know that better than most.

Reach Ferd Lewis at

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