Back in June, the exact details of the OIA-ILH alliance began to take root.
The concept of reuniting the two leagues for football had been around since the breakup in 1970. So, this fall, the leagues returned to an integrated regular-season schedule for the first time in nearly five decades. But there is one catch: while the Interscholastic League of Honolulu counts games against Oahu Interscholastic Association teams in its standings, the OIA does not.
The pilot-program approach by the public-school OIA isn’t a shock. Still, at least one OIA coach was not aware of this when the regular season began last week. Saint Louis’ longtime coach, Cal Lee, wondered aloud about it then. He wondered about a number of stipulations and limitations that gave the larger league, the OIA, steep advantages in every way from gate revenue to bus rental costs.
“It’s done. What can you do? You can’t keep complaining. You’ve got to focus on what’s going on, but at the time it was like put a gun to your head,” Lee said on Tuesday.
Punahou coach and co-athletic director Kale Ane sees the positives of the alliance. Without it, the ILH’s top teams, Saint Louis, Kamehameha and Punahou, would’ve been stuck in a double-round robin format with byes of one to two weeks.
But the flip side is coaching strategy. So far, OIA teams have been healthy and playing to the hilt. What happens, though, when midseason arrives and an OIA coach has to decide on whether to utilize a key player who has a nagging injury like a sprained knee or ankle. If that team has an ILH opponent coming up, the risk to the player isn’t worth the result since it doesn’t count for the OIA team. In a 50-50 injury situation, what OIA coach would play someone who could use an extra week to heal?
Roosevelt coach Kui Kahooilihala saw his team beat Pac-Five, 17-15, on a game-winning kick with no time left on the clock on Saturday at Ticky Vasconcellos Stadium.
The Rough Riders drove the length of the field in the final minutes after Pac-Five took the lead with 4:45 on a field goal of its own.
There were a combined seven turnovers and after the game, Kahooilihala was honest about the situation, knowing the game wouldn’t count in Roosevelt’s OIA standings.
“We wasn’t looking to score — get rid of this game and get off the field actually,” Kahooilihala told Hawaii Prep World’s Billy Hull. “We didn’t want to make this game any longer than it is for us, but that’s how it was.”
Not all coaches share this sentiment. Kahuku coach Sterling Carvalho has said multiple times the Red Raiders are treating every game the same.
“We’ve accomplished one of our big goals, which is to win our first (Open Division) game, in a new era with a new coach, to take down an ILH team,” Carvalho said. “We take every game as a game we want to win, and we must win, so count or no count, we play to win. This is what the Open is all about. Great games, great competition bringing out the best out of everybody. That’s why when we play, we want to play the best.”
The question still remains. How will the majority of OIA teams approach it? The usual wear and tear on every team could easily lead OIA coaches up and down Open Division, Division I and Division II to treat ILH games as exhibitions by that point. That’s why Lee was perturbed about the OIA’s decision to discount ILH games. Coaches are confident there will be integrity, but the practicality of sitting key players, even the ones who aren’t injured, to save them for OIA games can’t be denied.
“It might happen, but as coaches we’re all thrilled with this opportunity. Both sides will play to win. Coaches love to compete for as long as they can,” Ane said.
Ane’s Punahou squad led in the first half at Kahuku before succumbing 41-28. Carleton E. Weimer Field was roughly three-fourths filled up despite the game being televised live.
“It was great. People were supportive and made a lot of noise. It was a lot of fun,” Ane said.
‘Iolani’s veteran coach, Wendell Look, is just stoked for a change in the system even though, like all ILH teams, nearly every one of the Raiders’ games is at an opponent’s site.
“It’s been exciting to see a lot of different matchups we haven’t seen and the interest level will continue to grow. Everybody’s getting in the flow it and you’ll see some good football,” he said. “I think it’s just the integrity of all the coaches and the fact that we’re in this to play the game right. I don’t see that to be an issue or problem. People are here to compete and do what’s best for our team and our league, and for this alliance.”