Somehow, Keith Amemiya gets the flow going again, every time.
In prep sports, he is what Chris Paul is to every NBA franchise he joins, except that Amemiya does it while smiling. That would make him… Magic Johnson?
His skill at mobilizing some of the most impactful people in island sports remains unmatched. When the CPB Foundation announced on Wednesday a group donation to public high school sports of $250,000, it was no surprise that the former executive director of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association was the point man. Again.
Back in 2009, Amemiya spearheaded a drive to raise $1.5 million in what was eventually titled “Save Our Sports” to keep high school athletics alive during the peak of the recession. The job description of the HHSAA chief doesn’t include near-miraculous fundraising, but Amemiya makes it seem simple, and simply is often times not easy.
During the cancelled winter season, Radford Athletic Director Kelly Sur was among those who was alarmed at the possibility of a spring sports cancellation for a second year in a row. He reached out to Amemiya.
“It’s all Keith and his cadre of people who put their words to work for our youth. A lot of talk from others, but Keith as always been there for the public schools,” Sur said. “We truly are fortunate to have Keith as a supporter.”
Shane Victorino. Marcus Mariota. Deforest Buckner. All three storied Hawaii athletes came up with clutch contributions along with the Wally Yonamine Foundation and Friedman Foundation. Amemiya relishes his memories of the state’s student-athletes through his 11 years as executive director of the HHSAA.
“I remember vividly watching Shane, Deforest and Marcus shine on the field. I’m so proud and excited and grateful that they’re giving back to the community today with their donations towards public high school athletics,” Amemiya said. “That’s what it’s all about. As Paul (Yonamine) mentioned, without sports his dad, Wally, would probably not have achieved the things that he achieved throughout his life. Sports is a tool to get you ahead, not only athletically, but off the field, as well. I can’t thank the athletes who have given back enough. Like sports, it’s a team effort.”
Mariota didn’t start at quarterback for Saint Louis until his senior year, when he directed the Crusaders to ILH and state championships. His work ethic at practice, plus prodigious talent, led Oregon to recruit him based in part on what they saw on the practice field — while he was a junior.
“He didn’t really get to play until his senior season. Without that senior season, maybe his life might have turned out differently,” said Ed Nishioka, speaking on behalf of the Motiv8 Foundation. “When heard he could help out the seniors this year, to have a season and not have to cancel for a second year, he immediately jumped in. Marcus really values the youth and that’s our mission.”
Victorino was a blur of an athlete at St. Anthony. On the football field, he directed an old-school offense under the late, great Charlie Ane. In a preseason game at Hawaii Prep in the 1990s, the Trojans trailed the home team 14-0, seemingly content to run for one or two yards on every play.
By the second quarter, the setup was in play. Victorino lofted touchdown passes against a near-empty secondary. Misdirection plays led to easy scores. The visitors and their funky offense won decisively, 35-20, but Victorino’s best sport was a couple of seasons away.
At St. Anthony, Victorino also played multiple sports, but opted for a professional career in baseball out of high school.
“We come from the same breed,” he said of Buckner. “I come from a smaller island. I grew up with a mom who engaged her time and effort. When you get an opportunity to reach success, giving back, just like DeForest, we’re going to do it. It’s not about the financial stuff. We want to show the youth of Hawaii that dreams do come true.”
Victorino’s motivation came from his family.
“I give a lot of credit to my parents, especially for my mom. For me as a kid growing up with ADHD, facing challenges, sticking by me. Basically, making one of the hardest decisions in life when I was a senior in high school, whether to go to professional baseball or go to the University of Hawaii to play football and baseball,” Victorino said. “My dad pushed me. My brother pushed me.”
Buckner grew up in Waianae before attending Punahou, where he dominated the ILH and state in football and basketball.
“Back in high school, every year, we used to host a kids camp, our varsity team, go out there and help the kids with drills. It meant so much to me that I told myself, if I made it or anything like that, and I was in a position to give back, I would. Do the little things that make a difference in kids’ lives,” Buckner said.
He remembers his years as a Son of Oahu.
“Coaches who impacted me as a high schooler making it to the next level were Kale Ane and Marcus Johnson. They really helped me grow from a teenager to a man mentally. They challenged me every single day,” Buckner said. “Taking the time to work with me personally to work on the mental side, whether it was about football or life.”
Victorino and Buckner, speaking at Wednesday’s presentation via live stream, encouraged young student-athletes to move forward.
“It’s simple. The road on my journey wasn’t smooth. There are forks in the road. There were bumps. But it’s just a bump in the road. We’ve got to keep going, keep moving forward. No sense in grumbling about the past. Hopefully, we achieve our lifelong dreams,” Victorino said.
“There’s going to be adversity, you always have to find a way to overcome, to have the attitude to take advantage of the opportunity. You never know when the next opportunity will be there,” Buckner said.
Paul Yonamine is executive chairman of Central Pacific Bank. The CPB Foundation donated $100,000 to the fundraising drive. The Wally Yonamine Foundation donated $25,000 more.
“My father was the first local boy to play in the NFL for the San Francisco 49ers. That was in 1947. In 1951, he changes sports and he ends up in Tokyo, Japan. He’s the first American to play for the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants. Since then, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Japan. The San Francisco 49ers, to this day, celebrate him by providing a diversity award to a deserving non-profit,” Yonamine said.
“These are great accomplishments, but none of these opportunities would have resulted if he didn’t have an opportunity to play and compete and be discovered while playing for Farrington High School. Every student deserves a chance to play and compete in high school sports, and have a number of different opportunities bestowed to them, as well. I think my father would have very passionate in support of Hawaii spring sports.”
Wally Yonamine built a life in Japan during and after his pro baseball career, but never lost his connection to the islands. His foundation has been a sponsor of the HHSAA baseball state championships for more than two decades. That foundation and Shane Victorino were crucial in the 2009 Save Our Sports mission.
“The Wally Yonamine and Shane’s foundation stepped up then and here they are stepping up again,” Amemiya said. “Hopefully, we don’t another crisis in 10 years, but if we do, I’ll talk to Ed and Marcus’ parents and Maria and hopefully you can support the cause again. It’s something we should all feel great about. We’re helping thousands of student-athletes across the state realize their hopes and dreams.”