Arms race: Punahou yet to be challenged

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.


  1. maukamakai October 15, 2014 12:38 pm

    Nice write up Mr. Honda, Punahou is not a lock for the state title this year in football, until Kahuku hangs up their shoes and the season is done, don’t count out the Big Red!

    Even though Punahou, St. Louis and Kamehameha combine to have 10+ players every year on their teams that should be starting for Kahuku we still got secret weapons that unleash themselves in the playoffs. LOL

  2. Cabs October 15, 2014 12:50 pm

    Thanks for writing such an awesome article Paul! It enforces what I’ve been trying to explain to many people, not so such on this website but more so to family/friends, etc. I for one am a Punahou alumnus and I’m tired of the misconceptions and rumors surrounding the school.

    ” 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.”

    Exactly this^. Students transfer into Punahou NOT just to play sports, but also because it opens the doors wider for opportunities for his/her future. So the school did not merely “steal” the student for his/her athletic talent; his/her family saw it as an opportunity. Football (or any other sport) isn’t everything at Punahou. It attracts “geniuses, athletes, and genius athletes”.

  3. D-Zilla October 15, 2014 3:13 pm

    AWESOME ARTICLE PAUL! Now how bout an in-depth investigative article or series of articles about the “recruiting” going on at Mililani? That would be awesome! If Rich Miano were still at Kaiser, I’d include them as well. Let me know what you think.

  4. Recruiter808 October 15, 2014 3:29 pm

    What is there to investigate? Schools recruit because they are tired of not being able to compete and they want to win. Can you blame Mililani? I would be tired too if the Marching band was winning more than the Football team. Kids from the North Shore attend Punahou because of the opportunities and prestige that Punahou offers them and not because of Football. If they wanted to be State Champions in Football they would have a better chance if they stayed at Kahuku. The News paper writes articles about Punahou as if their some kind of Football Dynasty when they are far from it. How many State titles have they won? How many times have they been to the State Championship game? If you look from 1999 to 2013 St. Louis has more State titles and more appearances in the Title game then Punahou and Kahuku beats them every time they play each other in the title game anyway.

  5. Northshore October 15, 2014 4:07 pm

    IRT Cabs: I have to agree with you that Punahou offers what every serious parent and athlete strives for: top-level education, college prep courses and it looks great on the college application and resume. But besides that, “Blue Chip” athletes are on the radar from the time they’re playing Pop Warner and JV football. Surely there’s a lot of misconception and rumors but the fact of the matter is, some of the misconceptions that you’re tired of hearing are true believe or not. Many parents with “Blue Chip” athletes cannot afford to send their son/daughter because of their low income. Parents and athlete are approached by the coaching staff because of their exceptional athletic ability, not because of being a genius. “Financial Aid” are offered and what reason would the parents and athlete from a low-income family not transfer to Punahou because of his/her ability to play sports. Did Punahou not merely recruit the student for his/her athletic ability? Football (or any other sport) is everything at Punahou especially when it recruits the exceptional athletes throughout the state and that is not a misconception. The positive element between a public and private school is when an athlete is recruited and transfers to a private school because of the “Financial Aid” provided, to play the main objective…Sports.

  6. maukamakai October 15, 2014 4:17 pm

    @D-Zilla, the article defines “build it and they will come” as the reason why athletes are wanting to transfer to a successful program like Mililani or Kaiser, not so much that those schools are out “Recruiting” the athlete to come and play for them. Success attracts more success.

    Unfortunately for us at Kahuku “build it and they will come” means the ILH recruiters will come. Success attracts aku birds.

    At the end of the day though we are happy for our north shore kids that are playing for ILH schools and getting that exposure to open their minds in ways that public schools cant do. Sports will someday end but the mind goes on forever.

  7. Shaka dat October 15, 2014 6:48 pm

    Punahou is yet to be Challenged cause they playing in that week ILH Division.!!

  8. Da Reddest Raider October 16, 2014 10:56 am

    Punahou has only won 2 State championships and Miliani only 1 OIA Championship. How is that a “winning tradition”?
    Kahuku has 9 OIAs and 7 state Championships. Now THAT is a winning TRADITION my friend. Plus all our talent is homegrown from our backyard.

  9. Sparklin October 16, 2014 11:07 pm

    I’m not sure if the author is a Punahou alum, as is CABS, however I’ll be the first to point out your extreme misuse of hybolical words and poor grammar. Punahou may have an enticing package to offer but it seems to have been unhelpful for you both. Kahuku is the team to beat, the team to recruit from, and the team that loves all our players, even the ones we share with you. Basically, you’re welcome. You’re welcome for all the natural talent that your team lacks, you’re welcome for all the slogans you borrow because your “geniuses” didn’t think of it, you’re welcome for all the haka/washcloth/chanting traditions you need because your education blocked you from any real culture. RR4L We create not imitate. You’re welcome!!

  10. Jay.Cee October 17, 2014 9:11 pm

    This is a great write-up, Paul, and I commend you for writing what I have also been thinking for a long time. This article touches on the importance of a quality education and the sacrifices many parents make to send their kids to Punahou. It explains why many would choose to attend this private school instead of “playing in their own backyard”. It’s true that many talented kids do come from Kahuku and Punahou never claimed that they came from elsewhere. Think about this, if you want to complain about staying “in your own backyard” then why play for a mainland college team? Why not stay in Hawaii to play for and attend UH? Isn’t the reason local kids choose to play on the mainland, the same reason why many student athletes choose Punahou? For the opportunities that are created when you play for a great team and attend a great school. Going to a school to play for a great sports program is one thing and going to a school for top-notch education is another. Punahou offers both.

    IRT Da Reddest Raider – yes, this article is written during football season but this Punahou dynasty that he writes about goes beyond that…way beyond that. If you don’t believe me, look at the NATIONAL FEDERATION OF STATE HIGH SCHOOL ASSOCIATIONS’ record book and type in Punahou. To save you some time, I’ve already done it. Here are the results: Volleyball (boys) – 31 state championships (1972-2013), Swimming and Diving (girls) – 47 state champships (1958-2012), Cross Country (girls) – 25 state championships (1973-2012), Track and Field (girls) – 35 state championships (1967-2013), Swimming and Diving (boys) – 40 state championships (1958-2010), Track and Field (boys) – 32 state championships(1959-2011), Soccer (boys) – 18 state championships (1976-2011), Tennis (girls) – 39 state championships (1953-2013), Tennis (boys) – 46 state championships (1958-2013). There may not be football listed but he’s implying that it can be added to the prestige that comes from the sports programs at the school. Like you said, “Now THAT is a winning TRADITION”.

    IRT Sparklin – Since you’re pointing out mistakes and errors, I would like to point out your misuse of facts, or should I say incorrect facts. Punahou does not owe you guys for anything you say you “created”. Let’s take a look, shall we? The Haka – this was performed FIRST by the All Blacks rugby team before their first game in 1888. Thank you, All Blacks. The washcloth – this was started by the Pittsburgh Steelers’ radio broadcaster (at that time), Myron Cope, and first used in 1975. Also known as The Terrible Towel. Thank you, Pittsburgh and Myron. The “Raider Nation” slogan – first created and then TRADEMARKED by the Oakland Raiders when they moved back to Oakland from Los Angeles, in the early 1980’s. Thank you, Oakland. Tomahawk chop (which I’ve seen Kahuku do) – first created by Florida State University in the 1980’s. It was also used by the Atlanta Braves in the 1990’s. Thank you, FSU Seminoles and Atlanta Braves. There is nothing used that wasn’t done or created BEFORE you. And while we’re at it, you guys better thank those same people too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Star-Advertiser's TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, email