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ILH bowling champion files lawsuit to regain her eligibility

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Anastasia Saili is not your run-of-the-mill bowler. She is the reigning Interscholastic League of Honolulu singles champion who placed third in the state tournament a year ago.

Due to its transfer rules, the ILH has deemed Saili ineligible to participate in official matches this year. Saili’s family, after several attempts to get a league exemption for Anastasia, filed a lawsuit in the First Circuit Court through attorney Barry Sooalo on Monday.

According to Anastasia’s father, Audie Saili, Anastasia was dismissed from Punahou for academic reasons at the end of her junior year last spring and is now a senior at Sacred Hearts.

"She has a passion for bowling and she really wanted to finish up bowling her senior year in high school," Audie Saili said. "She is not happy, but she will be happy if she gets to bowl this season."

Time is running out. The ILH’s final regular-season matches are Oct. 19 and the league’s singles and doubles championships are Oct. 20, with the state tournament Oct. 29-30.

The lawsuit names former ILH executive director Don Botelho and current interim executive director Georges Gilbert and other parties as defendants. According to one source close to the situation, neither Botelho nor Gilbert had been served a summons as of Friday afternoon.

By ILH rule, athletes who transfer from one league school to another must sit out a sport one year before returning to the same sport. Under that scenario, Saili will have graduated by the time she is eligible.

In the lawsuit document, the Saili family and Sooalo point out that Anastasia did not voluntarily leave Punahou, and that she did not "transfer" from one school to another because she was not a student at Punahou when she requested admission to Sacred Hearts.

On Aug. 10, the ILH rejected an exemption that was requested by Sacred Hearts on behalf of Saili, who then appealed that decision on Aug. 17. The appeal was denied two days later.

Of the more than 20 ILH schools in the original exemption vote, one school (Sacred Hearts) voted in favor of Saili and four schools (including Punahou) abstained, according to Audie Saili.

Sooalo declined to comment on the case and so did Jeffrey Harris, an attorney who has represented the ILH in the past. Punahou director of communications Laurel Bowers declined to comment on the specifics concerning Saili’s departure from the school.

Gilbert, Sacred Hearts head of school Betty White and athletic director Ryan Hogue did not return phone calls for comment.

If Saili went to a public school (the ILH is made up of private schools), the transfer rule would not have applied and she could be competing in high school bowling now.

"We had no choice," Audie Saili said. "She had to leave Punahou. The deans of the school asked me where we thought she would go, and we immediately told them we were thinking of Sacred Hearts or Island Pacific Academy. We also thought about Moanalua, Pearl City or home-schooling. (Her change in schools) was not athletically motivated. We want her to get a good education."

Anastasia Saili, who has been practicing with the Sacred Hearts team, said, "I’ve been in the bowling alley every day for weeks. After (the team’s) matches on Tuesdays and Fridays, I bowl afterward. Sacred Hearts is good for me, but there are a lot of things I miss about Punahou."

The suit also asks for punitive damages of "not less than five million dollars."

"If they allow her to bowl, we would be happy," Audie Saili said. "That’s what we really want."

If Saili wins the suit and is allowed to bowl in ILH matches, she would need to win the league singles tournament or the Sacred Hearts team would have to place in the top two of the standings for Saili to qualify for states.

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