Much as I would love to see a SuperConference in high school football on Oahu, it’s unlikely to happen for a reason that is much simpler than the usual mantra chanted by ILH proponents, politics.
It’s a simple lack of competitive balance.
I asked the OIA (Dwight Toyama) about this 10 years ago in a story for (long defunct) Hawaii Sports Network magazine. He noted resources and facilities as major reasons why public-school programs struggle to compete with private schools. But what it comes down to is recruiting — my interpretation. I began to understand why public schools left the ILH in 1970 and why they remain in a separate league to this day.
We’re seeing this pattern recycle all over again now with Punahou. They have millions of dollars in their reservoir of financial aid, as well as outstanding facilities. They’re not the No. 1 athletic program in the nation for nothing. DOE employees send their children to ILH schools without hesitation whether it’s Punahou or another school.
On top of that, a school like Punahou is not bound by physical boundaries. Meanwhile, all 23 football-playing programs in the OIA are limited to small districts. That would be like telling UH to recruit only in the Hawaiian islands, while USC is permitted to recruit the entire planet. UH would be allowed only the bare minimum in resources and support, while USC would have the best facilities and employees galore. (Punahou is one of the few high schools that has an equipment manager.)
The scales are extremely unbalanced — public schools are poorer than ever in many ways, and the rich got richer. It’s not Punahou’s fault, to be sure. Someone had to be at the top of the food chain. If it hadn’t been Punahou, it would’ve been another school. That’s the nature of the beast. Punahou represents a lot of things to a lot of different people, but it is what it is. A big part of that is because of a drive to excel, as is the case with ILH schools. I’ve always said the ILH is fiercely competitive in academic and athletic realms, and sometimes, to get to the top, there is a figurative cannibalism in the fight to reach the pinnacle.
I’d still like to see a SuperConference for football only, but if we’re left with early nonconference games and don’t get to see another ILH-OIA game until the state tourney, that’s not so bad. Without the benefit of two-a-days due to the early start to the school year in the DOE, most public-school football teams don’t have the timing and execution early in the season that we were used to seeing in the past. By late season, most teams are sharper and avoid those false starts on the line of scrimmage. Plays are crisper. Those of us who have seen plenty of nonconference (preseason) games in recent years can only imagine what it would be like if the academic year began after Labor Day again. When the school year moved to an earlier start date — early August — public-school teams lost a whole month of extra workouts and reps, probably in the range of 20 to 40 more practices. That’s irreplaceable.
If anything, the argument against bringing the two leagues together again is stronger now than it was 40 years ago. I’m just glad there’s a state tournament despite the disparities. The public will never grow bored with David versus Goliath.
Paul Honda, Star-Advertiser