Nearly a half-century after a fractious split contributed to the demise of the golden era of high school football in Hawaii, there are credible, hopeful signs of a picking up of the pieces in a bold new initiative.
It would be a long-overdue rapprochement and, even more than that, a 24-karat opportunity not to be missed on so many levels.
In the coming weeks the private school Interscholastic League of Honolulu and public school Oahu Interscholastic Association, long mired in a cold war, are expected to vote on a potentially landscape-altering pilot proposal that would create a 10-team superleague — an “open” division — comprising the top teams from both leagues.
The “OIA-ILH Football Alliance Proposal,” as outlined in an internal ILH email obtained by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, lays out a firm framework that has the potential to raise the profile of high school football, generate sorely needed funds and spread benefits across an array of boys and girls sports.
Proposals to better bring together the public and private schools have been talked about off and on since five public schools — Farrington, Kaimuki, Kalani, McKinley and Roosevelt — exited the ILH after the 1969 football season, abandoning Damien, ‘Iolani, Kamehameha, Punahou and Saint Louis in a bitter breakup.
None, however, got very far off the drawing board because they either didn’t sufficiently address core issues of the breakup or they failed to provide the kind of incentive to move officials beyond entrenched, decades-old attitudes.
“I’m not sure we’ll ever see both sides get back together,” lamented Clay Benham before his death in 2002. The former Kamehameha Schools athletic director and ILH executive secretary watched for decades as plans got shot down as soon as they were circulated.
But the time is right and so, too, is the plan.
Imagine a league composed of, say, the three perennial ILH powers — Kamehameha, Punahou and Saint Louis — and seven OIA stalwarts such as Farrington, Kahuku, Kailua, Kapolei, Leilehua, Mililani and Waianae in a 10-member, battle-a-week open division.
Talk about your Friday night lights: There are potential matchups that we see only in the postseason, if then. And there would be a whole lot fewer blowouts. For it provides what football in the state has needed: a true three-tier system that better matches teams of like abilities, something that Division I and Division II didn’t quite cover.
The proof of that, you have to believe, will be more attractive games that mean better revenue at the gate and concession stands.
Yet that is only one side of the dollar. A compelling feature of this proposal is $3 million in much-needed financial support from the business community. Under the plan, the 29 football-playing schools of both leagues — not just the ones in the open division — would divide up $1 million per year for each of three years of this pilot project. That’s nearly $35,000 per school per year administered by the Hawaii Community Foundation and earmarked for transportation, SAT/ACT preparation, automated external defibrillators, heat-monitoring devices, equipment, etc., to be spread across all sports, female and male, not just football.
It might sound pie-in-the-sky except that there is a track record here. Keith Amemiya is the apparent broker of the plan, if not its architect, and his “Save Our Sports” initiative in 2009-10 as HHSAA director produced nearly $2 million to help underwrite public school sports in the wake of statewide cutbacks.
What also differentiates this proposal from ones in the past 46 years is that it contains provisions that address the hot-button recruiting and eligibility issues that doomed the old ILH.
According to the proposal, any student transferring from a public school to a private school (or any neighbor island school) for football would be required two sit out two years. In addition, a minimum 2.0 grade-point average would be required for participation, and 11th-graders would not be eligible for junior varsity participation.
The pre-1970 ILH ruled local sports with traditional rivalries (Paint Brush Trophy, anyone?) and crowds wedged into Honolulu Stadium that outnumbered those turning out to watch the University of Hawaii, an independent in those days.
But the breakup so polarized the public and private leagues that it stunted growth. It wasn’t until 1999 that they got together on the first true state championship game, one of the last states to do so. Even so, it was only grudgingly. It would be another four years before a two-division plan was put into action.
If this newest, boldest concept comes to fruition — and, really, when you look at it, only decades of pent-up spite could stand in the way — it portends a forward-looking restart.
Reach Ferd Lewis at email@example.com or 529-4820.
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Can’t recall what caused the breakup. Could someone shed some light?
“What also differentiates this proposal from ones in the past 46 years is that it contains provisions that address the hot-button recruiting and eligibility issues that doomed the old ILH.”
This will be like Hawaii’s version of SEC football. How will the Oceanic telecast be affected by this? The ILH has had their own guidelines set up to protect their gate receipts. Will they now be able to show all games irregardless of league affiliation?
Come on, Ferd. No neighbor island team has ever played in the state championship football game. Nor would one have played in that game even if the state football tournament was held since 1971. The Oahu schools are that much better.
Yup thats fact, but still can’t write them out of the picture prematurely.
While the ILH football teams would gain much from this proposed merger, there is little to entice the OIA football powers to support it. According to one of the OIA head football coaches I talked to last week, The OIA teams would lose money. Additionally, the OIA currently gets 3 spots in the state playoffs, and the combined league would get only three; therefore, the OIA would come up short in this merger. Basically, the ILH needs the merger to address its imbalance, but the OIA does not need it.
Sometimes a lose-win strategy in the long run becomes win-win for everybody…
I can’t even go to watch a high school game without being accused of as a spy. They think they are playing in the NFL, NBA, MLB, and MLS for big money without hardly any spectators in a Park and Recreation park.