The road to Honokaa: ILH maze leads afar

It ain’t simple, but it makes sense.

The Interscholastic League of Honolulu has become a bit of a loner when it comes to sound and sensible playoff formats. The ILH still rewards its regular-season winner with an automatic state berth; the OIA hasn’t done that in ages (if ever) and the BIIF dropped the automatic berth this season due to budget restraints.

So, when Trevyn Tulonghari’s 3-pointer gave ‘Iolani a last-second 50-49 win over Kamehameha on Saturday, the Raiders claimed the ILH title and first state berth. It also meant that Kamehameha would have to play Punahou — at the Buffablu’s court — for second place.


Why bother playing for second? Because that is the other automatic state berth in the ILH. Tonight’s winner at Hemmeter Fieldhouse won’t get a first-round bye like ‘Iolani, but it will have the rest of the week to rest and practice. The loser heads directly into the ILH’s playoff gauntlet: the third-place tournament.

Then, and only after winning the tourney, the third-place team will board a plane, head to the Big Island and make a 40-mile drive to Honokaa for a play-in game to the state tourney. That weaving, uphill climb is an hour’s drive and tends to sap the strength of many visiting teams. Lester Bryan Armory, located on the school campus, is a relic of a bygone era, as are almost all the gyms of Hawaii Island.

Seating is behind one basket and along one sideline. The opposite basket has no seating behind it. Across the sideline audience are the teams and a wall that’s no more than 8 feet from the line. The locker rooms are behind that wall. It’s a compact facility the school shares with the military, but make no mistake: when Honokaa fans turn out for their team, it’s no holds barred.

Honokaa and Kohala fans rate among the best in the state when it comes to getting under the skin of officials and opposing teams alike. Everything’s good once the final seconds tick off the clock, but until then, it can be the most hostile environment in the state.


The food, for you hungry fans, has a tradition of being quite good, an offering of homemade chili and mochi back in the day.

In the ILH-BIIF play-in games of the past few years, ILH teams have dominated, even on the road. Of all the BIIF teams this season — athletic squads like Keaau and Kealakehe were bumped out in the playoffs — Honokaa may be the least known. Former coach Cheyenne Meyer returned this season after taking time out to spend more time with his young family.

The best team in the BIIF, arguably, isn’t even in Division I. St. Joseph, ranked No. 7, played D-I teams during the regular season before winning the D-II playoffs.


But for whoever wins the ILH’s third-place tourney, beware. There’s a lot of ammo in Honokaa. Best to take care of business quickly before the Dragons roar.

By Paul Honda

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