Hawaii football needs some balance

Punahou defeated Damien 48-0 on Sept. 7. (Bruce Asato / Star-Advertiser)
Punahou defeated Damien 48-0 on Sept. 7. (Bruce Asato / Star-Advertiser)

Is competitive balance still a problem in Hawaii high school football?

I think it is, and so do many others, judging from response to columns in recent issues of the Star-Advertiser.

When forfeiting games becomes a regularity because schools with short rosters are in the same divisions and scheduled against much more powerful teams, something is wrong.

Last Wednesday’s column includes a proposal to merge the OIA and ILH in football and create three divisions. This can’t happen unless the private and public school leagues’ sports leadership put some old grudges behind them. Hopefully they do that in the interest of competitive balance — and, more importantly, student-athlete safety.

In Sunday’s column, veteran Hawaii high school football trainer Cynthia Clivio says mismatches can contribute to more injuries — and not just for the undersized, short-roster team.

Also, Chris Chun, the Hawaii High School Athletic Association executive director, shares his thoughts on the issue.

What do you think? Is there a discrepancy in competitive balance? And if so, what are possible solutions?


  1. kanak October 15, 2013 7:03 am

    It’s absolutely ridiculous, the way the leagues are set up now. You have D1 teams playing their 3rd string with run-away scores and the D2 teams plagued with injuries. Forfeiting games makes for unfair scenarios/advantages whereby the other team has a rest week, as with the St. Francis/St. Lois game…with play-offs starting the following week. It’s no secret that the ‘old boy’ network has to be dismantled, and as you said, old grudges need to be let go for the sake of en-bettering the playing talent that has surfaced here in Hawaii. Way back in the day, the ILH was the Honolulu schools…public and private, and the OIA was made up of the rural schools. Travel was long and difficult in those days, but not anymore. Why not change things up? I am sure the ILH D1 teams would appreciate more competition and play time (with all the hard work that goes into their programs), and the smaller schools would appreciate having some real competition, without the fear of serious injury. For Oahu, I say island-wide D1, D2 and D3; with 10 teams per division. Now, wouldn’t that make for a dynamic high school football season!

  2. Gary Kikuchi October 15, 2013 7:50 am

    If football needs to be considered an extra curricular activity (and who is going to say NO?), we need to be able to have our students be able to participate in an environment that is both safe and competitive. Merging the ILH and OIA is a dream. Recruiting and offers of scholarships for student athletes to attend private schools are old issues to overcome. The OIA does not offer scholarships but don’t they have “geographic exceptions”? Do coaches recruit? Do parents have aspirations for their student-athlete children to participate and excel at a school with an above average athletic program?

    Perhaps the impetus for re-organizing should come within the OIA and include the KIL, NIL and BIIF organizations. They can address recruiting and the movement of athletes from one school to another for the reason of playing sports. Above all, academics needs to be stressed. The public schools have standards in place. Are they enforced? Who monitors any violations?.

    This is not an easy transition. The current OIA and ILH make-up screams for improvement. Can we do it?

  3. 808Warriors October 15, 2013 8:24 am

    Hawaii prep football absolutely needs to have the ILH and OIA merge schedules to create a competitive playing field that is not only safer for the players but enjoyable to watch as well. What will it take before common sense prevails? Will it take a serious injury to a 5’6″ 165 lbs. D2 lineman by a 6’5″ 275 lbs. D1 blue chipper on his way to Stanford or Oregon to get everyone’s attention? I hope not. As a parent, I had the unique perspective of having two sons play on different teams in the D1 and D2. One son was on the winning end of these lopsided games and the other was on the losing end of these games. From my personal experience, it wasn’t enjoyable or competitive to attend either game. In a six game regular season, the reality is that Punahou, St. Louis and Kamehameha play two (and potentially three depending on how Iolani is playing that year) competitive games and four blow-outs or byes. I understand that football (having played it myself) is a game where injuries may occur but the risk of such injuries are substantially increased when the competition is significantly more superior. In ILH baseball, D1 and D2 teams do not play each other. They stay within their divisions. This is the same for ILH basketball as well. Allowing D1 and D2 teams to compete (if you want to liberally call it that) is tantamount to allowing heavyweight wrestlers to compete with the lightweight wrestlers in competition with no weight divisions. They don’t allow it because of safety, yet we do when it comes to high school football. As a parent and a fan of the game, I would love to see Punahou and Kahuku play during the regular season or Damien against Waipahu. Where every week’s game would be a real competition. Please let common sense prevail before someone’s son gets seriously injured or paralyzed.

  4. Bill October 15, 2013 8:26 am

    When St Francis forfeited to St Louis, St Louis could have ask some of their players if they would go over to the St Francis side just so the St Francis team could have a game. Win, lose don’t matter. Read where other teams in water polo did that for the Farrington girls water polo team.

  5. CriticalReader October 15, 2013 9:59 am

    Discussing league re-alingment in terms of safety and injuries is simply a big shibai to mask sportnuts’ obsessions with seeing “good games”. 808Warriors made that clear above. It wasn’t “fun” watching his kids’ games because they were blowouts. Worried about a 6’5″ 270 Blue Chipper against a 5’8′ (or howabout 5’6′?) 165 pounder? You need look no further than ANY game Punahou’s Kaumatule plays against ANY team (including St. Louis, Kamehameha, Mililani and Kahuku). What? It’s OK for a kid 5’8″, 165 to be a victim of the 6’7″ kid if the smaller kid plays for a good team? Or, you wanna let the “good” teams stack by recruiting so they don’t have 5’8″ 165 lbs. kids? Which is it? You guys want to solve the problem of injuries and safety in football? Stop playing football. It is not a safe sport (sad but true, with increasing evidence on that point), and injuries are guaranteed for every player. You want to get rid of RUTS? Prohibit publication of high school “TOP 10” and “POWER” rankings. Make it about league standings and nothing more. Then wins and losses are all that matter, and there is no incentive for blowouts.

  6. kanak October 15, 2013 11:30 am

    @CriticalReader…You obviously have never sat in nauseum watching a team get plowed over by a team twice your size, in numbers, conditioning advantages and weight; yet, continue to play their hearts out through pain and injury down to the very last minute…game after game after game. Perhaps, some of your ‘blue chippers’ need to spend their season playing against the likes of Kahuku, Waianae, Mililani, Campbell, (Leilehua, Kapolei), Farrington and Kaiser. These teams have shown they can draw attendance numbers at the Aloha Stadium. Then ‘top 10’ and ‘power rankings’ might look a little different. Never forget, Hawaii high school football does not begin and end with that blue chip.

  7. Bryson October 15, 2013 12:03 pm

    Do away with East and West merge oia with ilh and jus have red and white division. Punahou, Kamehameha and st louis all have easy schedules if they played in the oia it would be way more competitive for them. Instead of playing iolani, pac 5, st. Francis etc… there’s no purpose in those games. The red West is the toughest and most competitive division in the state

  8. CriticalReader October 15, 2013 12:20 pm

    kanak: I watch UH football, so I’ve seen that. I’ve watched St. Louis in the 80’s and 90’s, so I’ve seen that. I’ve watched this year, so I’ve seen that. Aside from St. Louis in the 80’s and 90’s, the common threads were the existence of subjective rankings and poor coaching decisions and skills. I’ve seen Pac-5 win a Prep Bowl. I’ve seen McKinley build itself into the playoff conversation (something my narrow mindedness thought I’d never see). I’ve seen 5’8″ 170 lbs. kids dominate the State Championship game – once against a 6’7″ 270 lbs. stud recruit. I’ve seen a school with about 420 total high school students win State Championships. I saw Kaiser play really badly a few years ago. I saw Kapolei stacked every year with college blue chippers playing like it should be in DII, and getting blown out this year by Campbell? So, what’s your point? This is football. If you’re going to let your kids play, and I don’t advise it AT ALL, then bust your butt to improve your school’s program, encourage your kid to bust their butt to become a better player and play at 100% at all times. Because, except for 1 or 2% of the kids, there’s always going to be someone bigger, or stronger, or faster. And, so long as there are helmets, there is going to be helmet to helmet contact (particularly on the interior line). And, there’s always going to be a chance that a kid gets hit hard on a planted knee, from either the front, back or side, despite the best of intentions and good heartedness of the defender. And, kids are going to end up on the bottom of piles, sometimes with their hands, or elbows, or shoulders posted on the ground putting sometimes TONS on their joints. And, it seems like there are always going to be kick-offs, where kids are given a 40 yard full speed head start before making contact with their upper bodies with another kid potentially running in the opposite direction at full speed. A Super division does nothing to enhance or alleviate any of that from happening. And, it does nothing positive for the kids. It only makes the game more interesting for the “fans”, the gamblers, and the media. Once again, you don’t want a kid to suffer football injuries, don’t let them play football. Easy. You don’t want to see RUTS? Get rid of the cause of RUTS – the rankings. Easy.

  9. fan October 15, 2013 1:02 pm

    I disagree that rankings are the cause of run-ups. Maybe in college football, where the rankings have some overall affect on things, but not in high school, where they don’t. CriticalReader, you make some great points, but by your logic, we shouldn’t have different divisions in college football, either. Depth and resources matter in this particular game more than they do in many other games. It’s not simply a matter of one or two 5-8 kids playing against a 6-7 kid — it’s also a matter of one team having backups, and third-stringers, who are all bigger than their opponents’ starters…and it’s about teams that hardly have any backups at all playing against teams with second units that could still make playoff runs. Again, you’ve made some great points here, but there’s more to this issue than what you’re suggesting. Competitive balance matters. It’s why we have different divisions in college athletics, and it’s why we have different weight classes in sports like wrestling, boxing and MMA. Right now, in Hawaii, we’ve got a handful of teams that are playing in the wrong weight class — heavyweights against featherweights, if you will — and I think that needs to be changed.

  10. CriticalReader October 15, 2013 2:47 pm

    fan, I hear what you’re saying, but there are any number of high enrollment schools in the isles that field marginal football teams, and vice versa on both issues. Howabout Kaiser? Super Division? DII? 8 man? They have a really small school enrollment. In Super Division because they WANT to be? Or vote of Coaches, or media? Maybe use this year’s record as a criteria? What if before next season starts, there’ s a couple season ending injuries, some transfers go back home, a couple of academic casualties, along with graduation. Do you know what Kaiser will actually look like next year? Then, the issue of resources. Resources? Really. Then Iolani is in the Super Division (see that new “learning center” the Foodland heirs just built them?). And then what happens to Campbell which we know from the news can’t afford air conditioning? And, what about a place like Campbell that might allocate resources in unbalanced fashion to make sure they stay in the SUpreme division of football, but have the rest of their students learn in un-airconditioned classrooms? And, what happens when, say, Iolani, Kamehameha, Punahou, St. Louis, Campbell, Farrington, Kahuku, Mililani, (and let’s make it unbalanced in favor of the OIA, which ILH would be nuts to permit, and add in): Leilehua and . . . . which other school – You choose – do become the members of the cream of the crop division? Do the Campbells, Farringtons, Kahukus, Mililanis, Leilehuas and, your choice, get deluged with GE applications? How does a Kalaheo build? How does a Moanalua or Castle build? What happens to the kids stuck back at those schools? Is the college recruiting knock on them that all the film they have is against second rate teams? Will we ever hear of the non supreme division teams in the local press ever again? This is TOTALLY about legitimizing TOP 10 polls, and worse, beginning of the season TOP 10 polls, not end of the season results in the current system. And, right now, the poll system really only contributes to RUTS (because coaches are by nature competitive people, and are cognizant of the competitive reward of being ranked in the polls) right now – which is a big enough problem for the leagues to figure out a way for quelling their publication. Legitimize the poll approach institutionally, and you will create a have and have nots system with the OIA, and even more of one in the ILH (and, as is proved EVERY year by the preseason polls, the selection of teams will be wrong).

  11. CriticalReader October 15, 2013 2:54 pm

    Also, my contention above is that Iolani should be in any super division. Based on current performance, that would make 4 ILH schools. What if they finish 1,2,3 and 4 in the Supreme division? Right now, the State Tourney only has 4 Oahu slots. I personally think it should be 2-2 between the OIA and ILH. But, you can’t do that if you put all the best in the same league, can you? You gotta respect the standings outcome, don’t you?

  12. CriticalReader October 15, 2013 3:05 pm

    Right now, the Oahu leagues, at least, are organized according to private and public schools. I think that’s about right. The interests of the DOE and the interests of the private schools as a whole are too divergent. I can see allowing more inter-league games and shortening up the regular season. I can see expanding the pre-season or even expanding the playoffs and concomitantly shortening the regular season. But, one fundamental flaw of the OIA system as it is right now is the involuntary placement of teams in DII. Kaiser is proof of that. Another huge flaw of the system as a whole is that some schools that should not have fielded teams this year were permitted to do so. A third flaw generally, which I simply cannot think of a good way to overcome except to rail on it, is the over-emphasis of football to the point where good, sound educational policy (by administrators and parents) takes a back seat. Solve those problems – don’t make them worse.

  13. 808Warriors October 15, 2013 3:26 pm

    IRT CriticalReader – what is a RUTS? Do you mean rout, where one team vastly outscores another?

  14. kanak October 15, 2013 4:19 pm

    CR: @criticalreader: You do have a lot of experience and knowledge and I appreciate your verbal points. However, to clarify – I believe I can speak for a lot of parents and fans and kids of the winning teams – we take no real pleasure in running up the scores…it just happens with no great intention. Back in the day, the ILH consisted of all Honolulu City Limits schools until the public schools complained about the recruiting. Things have changed again with successful football teams like Kahuku, Mililani, Leilehua etc.; teams with solid enrollments and community backings. It’s a great thing when you have these teams compete against the town schools…and win. Why wait until playoffs or just play pre-season games? The OIA may have flaws, but by your analysis…the ILH has another kind of flaw. I say dismantle both of them and start something totally new…something that will benefit the all kids and benefit island-wide football programs. Some of these community schools have great football programs, even if they don’t have the financial resources behind them. A lot of times, football is the kid’s ticket to college. Now, that’s a good thing for them, their families, and their communities and Hawaii!

  15. Lene October 15, 2013 5:09 pm

    I think a good Idea would be combine St.louis, Kam, Punahou, Iolani, into the OIA, 2 go to the east 2 go the west division. as for Daimen, St. francis, Pac-5 They join D2.
    Encourage Scrimmages and eliminate pre-season and have everyone play each other once to determine Playoff seedings.

  16. CriticalReader October 15, 2013 5:39 pm

    RUTS = Run Up The Score

  17. CriticalReader October 15, 2013 6:04 pm

    kanak, I DO understand where you’re coming from. But, I do not believe football is important enough, nor should it be accorded importance enough, to create a whole host of problems to satiate the desire of football fanatics, and those trading off high school football (the kids) to trade at a higher level. High School football is merely an adjunct to the core purposes of education, not the other way around. Add in that the concept of a super league will only elevate some football teams, create what will likely become an impenetrable “upper class” and lower class of high school (amongst public high schools in particular, which I think is just a terrible idea), and you get an uncontrollable monster. As I’ve written before, things need to dialed down. If for no other reason than the frenzy being created over football has led to these things like RUTS situations, situations where people like you think kids are in danger, situations where the focus on our youth seems to revolve almost exclusively on their acumen at football (which will rarely pay off in the long run)(tell me about an exceptional high school student you know of from media sources who is not a football player), and situations where the lust for more and more leads to calls for destruction of fundamental organizing principles (based on shared educational – not football – interests) that have been in place for almost 40 years (this call for re-alignment is a solely a symptom of the football craze that has overtaken America in the past 10 years, and has been gathering increased momentum in the past 4 or 5). I blame the private schools in great part for that. I think they’ve lost their way to a large degree.

  18. 808Warriors October 15, 2013 6:32 pm

    IRT CriticalReader – thanks. Never heard of RUTS before.

  19. fan 1 October 15, 2013 6:53 pm

    i totally understand everybody’s pros & cons….very simple, due to the money invovled at the ticket collection at the gate & concession, that is why the league split up, OIA teams are all state of hawaii organized institudes, the ILH is all private institudes, of course the ILH wants more money, they draw more fans…the ILH and the state of hawaii board need to meet & discuss for the better of Hawaii Football, is all about politics….i would love to see Punahou, St.Louis & Kamehameha play with the Kahukuʻs, Farringtonʻs, Mililaniʻs, Waianaeʻs, Leilehuaʻs, McKinleyʻs & etc….re-unite the rivalries…like old school, you got quality players competing all season, training, going to clinics, & etc

  20. kanak October 15, 2013 7:24 pm

    I agree with you that private schools have lost their way by using football recruitment to win championships. Other talented kids still have a chance to receive a decent education at the college level. Football is their venue. I agree, football is a dangerous sport, but the question is…what can the leadership and organizers do to make a more productive, positive and safer environment for the kids who are going to play ball anyway, as many of the players and families don’t see it as a extra-curricular activity, but it is a community and family life-style for them? Maybe a new, system can be put in place whereby there would be stricter academic requirements to play ball. We have so much talent here in Hawaii, both in players and in coaches. We, also, have some of the best academic schools in the nation. (Waialua High School won the International Robotics Championship:) Wouldn’t it be something if all could glean and learn from each other and not bicker over the manini stuff? The great leadership in the ILH and OIA have a lot to offer each other.

  21. Xaq October 15, 2013 8:24 pm

    Punahou’s policy of holding boys back a year has clearly skewed athletic results in their favor. This bolsters their image, alumni support & endowments while giving them an unfair advantage that endangers their less physically mature competition. Player’s ages need to be a part of the discussion about balance. NFL Alumni Mosi Tatupu, born April 26, 1955, graduated from Punahou in 1974, at the age of 19. A friend, who played for PAC 5 said that after he shook off the cob webs after getting run over, looked up and saw several of his teammates lying on the field as Tatupu held his hands up in the end zone. Sports writers said he was a man playing against boys. Men should not be allowed to play against boys.

  22. Ronald Rezentes October 15, 2013 9:15 pm

    Division 1, St.Louis, Punahou, Kamehameha, Waianae, Leilehua, Mililani, Kahuku, Farrington, Campbell. Division 2, Iolani, Damien, Castle, Kailua, Kaiser, Mckinley, Moanalua, Kapolei, Waipahu. Division 3, Pac 5, St. Francis, Kalani, Kaimuki, Roosevelt, Waialua, Nanakuli, Anuenue, Radford. Each Division has nine teams and plays 8 season games. The top 3 teams from each Division plays in the State tournament. It just makes sense.

  23. Kira October 16, 2013 3:33 am

    The OIA does not need the ILH. Should these two leagues merge, have the ILH concede to the OIA rules. If not, no need for a State championship. Rules must be the same to all teams else there won’t be a level playing field.

  24. PunAlum October 16, 2013 7:15 am

    It is not true that Punahou holds boys back a year. For grades K-3 boys have a 3 month earlier age cutoff than girls. Class size in high school is around 400, while kindergarten starts at around 150 and stays around there until 4th grade — at which point the age cutoff difference no longer applies.

    To say that Punahou has this policy in place for the 75 or so boys that enter kindergarten in order to gain a competitive sports advantage a decade later is fantasy, especially when you consider that of those 75 maybe only 50 make it to senior year.

  25. tubby October 16, 2013 11:22 am

    Kira, what rules are you asking the ILH to concede to?

  26. tubby October 16, 2013 12:07 pm

    Xaq, Mosi would have done that at age 17.

  27. Dave Reardon October 17, 2013 5:03 pm

    Lots of stuff to talk about, but one thing that has caught my eye for which the answer is fairly simple. There are many ways to assure that at least one (some) public school teams get into states if you merge ILH and OIA. Oahu Division I can be divided into two conferences and you can make one conference only public schools. Conference regular season winners advance to states and runners up playoff for additional spots. (I’m also thinking 8 team state tourney).

  28. Dave Reardon October 17, 2013 5:11 pm

    To be clear, the Division I schools that are not in the same conference would still play each other in the regular season, regardless of being public or private schools.

  29. Jay November 22, 2013 12:51 am

    Pun alum-
    C’mon man, who are you kidding? I’ve noticed a couple of ILH schools that have been doing this for some time now. I personally know of four kids, all of which started and attended public school with my son at the same time from K-5th grade. Of the four kids, three of them are ALL older than my son and one is about 7 months younger. My son currently is in 8th grade right now, but the three older boys who attend Punahou are in 7th grade and the one younger boy is at Mid Pac and somehow in 6th grade? If I do the math, all four of these kids will be 19 years old in their Senior years of high school.
    Now I’m not saying this gives schools like Punahou and Mid Pac some kind of athletic advantage, but to claim they don’t hold kids back a year or two is false. So what’s the purpose of holding back kids from their normal age/grade level? Maybe it ain’t for athletics, but for academic reasons?

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