For all he achieved in a barrier-shattering athletic career, a distinction that eluded Wally Yonamine inspired one of his most enduring investments.
Yonamine excelled as a high school athlete at Farrington before entering the Army and later signing with the San Francisco 49ers and embarking on a hall-of-fame baseball career in Japan. Yet, "despite all the accomplishments he’s had, he always regretted not going to college," recalled Paul Yonamine, Wally’s son.
The prospect of perhaps helping others reach that goal contributed to his decision to have the Wally Yonamine Foundation step forward as title sponsor of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association baseball championship in 1997.
The foundation also established a $200,000 endowment in 2006 to ensure its continued support of the tournament, and Yonamine’s legacy includes a place among the sponsors that provide vital financial resources for HHSAA’s state tournaments and scholarship programs.
"I still recall the time when I was talking to my father about it and he said, ‘I want to do something for high school students in Hawaii,’" Paul Yonamine said. "He just thought sponsoring a baseball tournament would give a lot of these kids an opportunity to be ID’d or scouted and maybe lead to other opportunities."
HHSAA’s list of sponsors ranges from individual foundations — such as those founded by Yonamine and golfer David Ishii — to some of the state’s largest corporate entities. Their contributions account for roughly a quarter of the organization’s annual budget, according to HHSAA Executive Director Chris Chun.
"They’re essential," Chun said. "It helps keep the schools’ dues down, it helps us keep our ticket prices down. Without them we wouldn’t be able to put on the type of state tournaments that we do.
"(Sponsors) see the value in it and what it does for the families and the community."
With the advent of Division II state, HHSAA —which separated from the Department of Education in 1995 — has expanded its tournament lineup to 43 championships. Since 2001 the association has introduced state championships in four sports (cheerleading, paddling, judo and water polo) and added nine Division II tournaments, beginning with football in 2003.
Keith Amemiya, Chun’s predecessor as HHSAA executive director, oversaw the growth of the corporate sponsorship program, which helped cover the expenses inherent in increasing state tournament opportunities.
One of the first big tests was the establishment of a state football tournament in 1999. Chevron, which currently sponsors the wrestling championship, served as the football tournament’s first title sponsor, and HHSAA also received aid from Hawaiian Airlines in assisting with transportation for the teams.
"They were critical for us because we had to find a way to cover the tournament’s expenses," Amemiya said.
First Hawaiian Bank took over as title sponsor in 2003, initially agreeing to a one-year deal. The bank has renewed its $100,000 commitment each year since and also contributes $5,000 annually to the state paddling championship.
"These are healthy outlets that teach them values in life that are invaluable," said Brandt Farias, First Hawaiian’s marketing director.
"We get some branding and awareness associated with the tournament. Therefore when people see the state championships, whether it’s football or paddling, they see First Hawaiian is engaged in the community. … We’re very happy with our investment in the HHSAA."
Every state tournament has a title sponsor (although the judo championship is sponsored anonymously), which generally covers operating expenses such as facility rentals, staffing and officials, among others. Several companies also provide general sponsorships whether in trade or cash, which can further help offset the cost of running non-revenue-generating tournaments.
HHSAA collects dues from each member school at the start of each year, but "we end up giving most of that back to the schools in other ways," Chun said. Without sponsorship money, Chun said the association might have to look into charging schools to participate in state tournaments, "and I’m not sure the public schools can budget for that at this time."
Sponsorships also support HHSAA’s two major scholarship programs: the Enterprise Rent-a-Car Hall of Honor and the HMSA Kaimana Awards.
Enterprise provides a $2,000 scholarship for each of the 12 Hall of Honor inducees. HMSA has sponsored the Kaimana Awards since 2005 and gave out 21 scholarships of $3,000 this year, with five honorees receiving an additional $2,000 as "distinguished scholars," who may in turn end up giving back to the community later in life.
"This program is a way for us to give these students a good start to the next phase of their lives," said Elisa Yadao, HMSA’s senior vice president of consumer experience. "We know that when they come back, whatever community they’re in, they’re going to make huge contributions."