So, is it art? Or is it science?
Is it pure intelligence? Or is it absolute passion?
Punahou is all of the above, and by nature of this sport called football, you can toss in elegant brutality and and surgery in chaos. The Buffanblu’s 47-7 wipeout of a very good Kamehameha squad re-emphasized one of the truths about Hawaii high school football in 2014: if you build it, they will come.
All that building has Punahou perched in a position atop the food chain. While Saint Louis had a longstanding dynasty under Cal Lee in the 1980s and ’90s, Punahou may have different competitive edges to keep the wins coming. Saint Louis made full use of the generous age-limit rule, opting to have student-athletes repeat a grade — like many other ILH programs — to get up to speed academically and added a year of physical growth.
When the HHSAA put a lid on player ages for its state tournaments, programs like Saint Louis had to adjust. But what the Crusaders still had are the same elements that make Punahou go: Charismatic leadership, non-stop work ethic, commitment to team, creative thinking, supportive administration. Oh, and unmatched talent from all over, particularly the North Shore.
The same factors are playing into Mililani’s development into the upper echelon. Magnet for talent creates on-campus and alumni electricity, something I think I shall call MAGNETRICITY. Goofy sounding, but this is the point: the lure of an elite academic system plus an uncompromising football culture is real. Last year, two all-state players from an ILH program told me that if they hadn’t gone to a private school, they would’ve played for Mililani. Not because they were asked. Not because it’s in their school district. It’s simply because of a winning tradition and atmosphere.
When the OIA’s administrators go to the league office and vote on a new transfer rule this month, odds are that it will not have a lot of wiggle room, that the new rule will strictly enforce a no-transfers-allowed-to-play stance starting with the 2015-16 academic year. You transfer from School A to School B, you can’t play for School B, not for one calendar year. Period. OIA executive director Raymond Fujino said that if the rule change passes, there will still be an appeals process. I’m thinking that means if a player can prove that he or she moved across district lines for legitimate reasons — parents’ job change, actually moving to a new district (proof of selling any previous property in the old one is part of what they look at), etc. — the appeals process should prove to be fair. Fair enough.
What is permitted in the ILH — a massive arms buildup by the elite — is something their OIA brethren frown upon, for the most part. In other words, if a public-school player plans on transferring to one of the OIA’s best football programs for football-only reasons, it won’t happen starting in August of ’15. A big reason for the movement to curtail transferring: the ILH draws new talent while the OIA cannibalizes. Talent flees the public-school system in favor of the ILH when it comes to Punahou, and now, Saint Louis with Lee’s return. In the OIA, talent has been switching schools, usually leaving smaller programs with lower enrollments, to play for the league’s best teams. The ones that grab the headlines and fill the air waves.
The ILH has seen its share of in-league transferring over the years and decades. It gets a lot of people upset. Every year, it seems, tremendous student-athletes at middle schools jump ship and go to Punahou for high school. By choice, of course. Sometimes it’s for financial reasons. Well, probably more than sometimes. That’s the reality.
What Saint Louis had to offer in the dynasty years was superb for its student-athletes and continues today. What Punahou offers is something every parent wants for his/her children: top-level education and — this is probably more important — prestige. Punahou looks great on the college application or resume. The network of alums is matched by few other institutions, if at all. And when the school’s financial aid kicks in, how would any parent or student-athlete say no?
So there you have it. When Punahou routs Saint Louis by 48 points and overpowers Kamehameha (this didn’t happen in the 1970s often), you have a new era in prep football. Punahou has the best of all worlds to offer, and when the OIA said (often) over the years that it was in no position to “merge” with the ILH for football purposes, it was not kidding. Punahou is so good, there is Division I college talent on the roster right now. Punahou would give a bunch of junior college teams and probably some Division II and III programs in the NCAA a good battle.
As a football community, fans can berate and debate, but this is something our culture created, not just old-time Saint Louis or today’s Punahou. Academics and athletics are pure passion for families here. Sometimes one more than the other. But they go hand in hand for a lot of campuses, and Punahou will continue to attract geniuses, athletes and genius athletes. Someone’s got to be at the top of the food chain.