The ILH House of Blues

Kumoku Noa had seven receptions for 141 yards, but Kamehameha's 26-23 loss to No.  1 Punahou eliminated the Warriors from postseason possibilities. Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser
Kumoku Noa had seven receptions for 141 yards, but Kamehameha’s 26-23 loss to No. 1 Punahou eliminated the Warriors from postseason possibilities. Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser

Ranked No. 5 statewide.

Elite defense. Stellar special teams. Explosive offense even with a third-string QB. The Kamehameha Warriors won’t be part of the state football tournament, not after last night’s 26-23 loss to No. 1 Punahou. Another year, another heartbreak for teams — pick a sport — from the shark tank of ILH athletics.

Kamehameha won’t be the last team to sing the blues this fall. Soon enough, perhaps by next week, another ILH — and state championship — title contender will be eliminated. Saint Louis, ranked No. 2 statewide, needs to beat Punahou for the second-half title, and again in the league’s championship game. Either way, one of the state’s top two teams will not play in the state championships.

It’s never an easy thing to digest, and ever since the public schools of Honolulu left the private entities in 1969, the epic war of haves versus have-nots has continued to thrive in reality and in our imaginations.

Sometimes the drama is tasty. Sometimes, it’s bittersweet. The ILH has continued to prosper, adopting new, small schools over the past 36 years, while the city public schools merged with country schools to form the OIA. Growth was not a problem for the OIA, and though the only new entries for more than a decade have been tiny charter schools, the league is massive and formidable.

It’s enough that when votes go to the general assembly floor on the final day of HIADA, the athletic directors’ annual conference, the OIA holds the most aces. The most votes. And the ILH usually complies. For the past decade, every attempt by various individual administrators to expand the state football tournament to eight teams — the original count — from the current field of six has been voted down.

For all the public clamor to add at least one more ILH team and, in most proposals, one more “at-large” squad, the OIA can’t vote anything down by itself, even with its huge voting bloc. It’s the ILH that has voted in sync with the OIA. The ILH has voted against expanding the state field in football, in effect limiting its state-tourney entries to one team.

The reasons are many, maybe. Or perhaps it simply goes back to a time, the 1960s, when administrators, coaches and communities got fed up with the uneven playing field. The lure of academic and athletic resources. The scholarships, or financial aid. The opportunities for exposure and college scholarships. Especially college scholarships. All of those reasons are alive and well today, even in the OIA, as the plethora of transfers to Kaiser and Mililani showed in recent seasons. And today’s football player has the added bonus of TV exposure in the public-school OIA.

The OIA and its surplus of outstanding coaches has become a lure in itself. The OIA Blue (Division I) was extremely balanced this season. But none of it really compares to the elite level of ILH D-I. On Thursday night, the state’s fifth-ranked team was eliminated from the possibility of state-tournament play. Fans will wonder, as always, about how one of the top five football teams in the islands gets knocked out this early — the OIA playoffs don’t start until today — just because of numbers and ratios. All fans see is talent and the ILH’s crazy abundance of coaching experience.

The appeal of playing in a league this tough — Punahou is No. 1 and Saint Louis is No. 2 — creates a unique ecosystem. Parents and athletes love the challenge. Well, most of them do. Two feet of homework tonight? We want the best for our children. Competing against the best in the ILH is fertile ground for student-athletes and recruiters know this well beyond just football. The same goes with coaching staffs. What Kamehameha’ football team assembled in a short time was one of the finest groups ever, a staff with enormous college experience to support Coach Doug Cosbie.

That’s the place any athlete or coach lives in when he or she willing chooses to compete in the ILH, whether it’s the playing field or classroom. That choice, for Kamehameha, could’ve led to ecstatic championship moments. Instead, they were just a tiny bit short, and the reality of a season about to end — in mid-October — seems like a bad dream. It’s the same every year in nearly every sport for the ILH, but is so much more gut-wrenching in football, with just one D-I state berth.

Given a few more games, a few more weeks, the Warriors could’ve turned out, maybe, to be the most balanced and dangerous of state-tournament teams. It is what it is. Unlike the OIA, where 86 percent of its D-I teams qualify for the playoffs, the ILH is a four-team conference (in D-I). As always, it is cut-throat, cannibalistic and heartbreaking all at the same time. And whoever came up with the ratio system decades ago can rest assured that yes, numbers don’t lie. There will continue to be one ILH participant in the D-I state tournament. Again.

Prep football in 2015 is not entirely different from where it was in those turbulent ’60s. Elite players still gravitate toward the best football programs and schools. The OIA realized that what functioned as normal back then — private schools attracting many of the best athletes — had become part of its ecosystem. The new transfer rule went into effect at the start of the 2015-16 public school academic year to snuff that “virus” out.

But in one way or another, the thirst for football success never ceases. Parents and players will work every angle and find loopholes to work through. Instead of sitting a year, they will move into other districts before their children begin ninth grade. Private schools will continue to enroll student-athletes from the neighbor islands — they are not subject to the one-year sit-out rule. Athletes will repeat a grade at a private middle school to gain an edge academically and physically.

In the end, the OIA, ILH and HHSAA can only do so much. In the end, your neighborhood Pop Warner/Junior League football star can opt to stay home and be a big fish in a small pond. Or he can commute for hours every day to play in what may or may not be a perfectly fair world. One thing is certain: athletics and academics remain a priority for many local families. The quest for enrolling at the most successful programs doesn’t stop. For the most part, the haves — both private and public schools at the top of the food chain — have not said no.

A decade and a half ago, then-OIA chief Dwight Toyama was only half kidding when he said this: with the facilities and resource imbalance between the OIA and ILH, it almost made no sense to compete. If the ILH pushed the wrong buttons, i.e. went overboard with recruiting, it wouldn’t be a stretch for the public schools to create their own state tournament.

From his viewpoint, Toyama was right. From the perspective of any public-school league, why go up against behemoths with seemingly unlimited firepower? (And no district lines.) Different missions for different institutions. Push most decision makers far enough and it becomes a matter of what’s best for me and my people. Survival instinct kicks in. The OIA is doing quite well with the structure as is. Aside from the ILH, there is no real incentive for any league to expand the state football tournament.

The ILH needs the OIA. There will be no private-school state tournaments. The OIA doesn’t really, really need the ILH. There will be no joining of hands between the state’s most talented football leagues except to continue the truce. Change is not coming. Probably not.


  1. ILH October 9, 2015 12:09 pm

    Hard luck, the ILH is tough though, but Kamehameha would beat any OIA play off team this year, no push over teams in the ILH.

  2. Kahuku 82 October 9, 2015 1:05 pm

    As right that they should be, it’s like putting an all star teams together and play everyone else. It’s not rocket science!!!!! But ummm if you would put a geographical restrictions in the ILH they wouldn’t have any D1 teams period! Punahou St. Louis Kam School and Iolani would all be holding hands with the rest of the ILH in DII……

  3. Hahashandah October 9, 2015 1:08 pm

    Please, Kam is good, but even if ILH had 2 spots in states they would still be 3rd. Plus, when that “OIA play off team” makes it to the states they are usually no “push over” either.

  4. Kahuku 82 October 9, 2015 1:27 pm

    Why ILH people always come on these forums and put down the OIA teams???? Out of all the ILH schools they only manage to put 3 teams until this year 4 in division 1, don’t think that’s anything to brag about…… Just my 2 cents!!! Das all I can afford…….

  5. GoBigRed October 9, 2015 1:37 pm

    @ILH. cmon now bruddah. Kam would not have beaten Kahuku or Mililani. Stop talking bubbles. Maybe Farrington…maybe. Like mentioned above they’re #3 in ILH. SUCH IS LIFE. Maybe next year.

  6. Manly October 9, 2015 2:50 pm

    All 4 ILH D1 teams got artificial turf. State of the art facilities and staff. OIA? No mo even fans.

  7. "UNITY=STRENGHT" October 9, 2015 3:09 pm

    The ILH should have two brackets in the states I think it can be done some how. The best six teams in the OIA and two from the neighbor islands that way it balances out and the top OIA and ILH champions get first round byes yah I think it could work. If you can switch the OIA teams to RED and Blue I think two ILH teams can go for states but some people got to get off there high horse and make it work. Going be more exciting and you wouldnt be able to say the public schools didnt have a chance I think they would have more of a chance it would benifit everyone. If no work can always change again its not like its written in stone.

  8. Kahuku 82 October 9, 2015 5:01 pm

    ^^^^^ would only take one extra week for states to accomplish that!!! But if sponsor and $$$ is the problem then it’s easier said then done…..

  9. Good Story October 9, 2015 6:41 pm

    @ All Haters of the OIA
    The OIA leads the State Championship series 9-7. Stop with the false narrative that the ILH is so much better. I personally would love an all OIA State Championship. Would be the first one ever and we truly have capable teams..and then Kahuku winning at the end of course. Let’s do this!

  10. Good Story October 9, 2015 6:52 pm

    Is “UNITY=STRENGHT” a typo? Or did I miss something? STRENGTH right? Maybe should be in the test to get into these ILH schools?

  11. OIA Watcher October 10, 2015 1:15 am

    Come on guys let’s just be happy that the kids get to play a sport they love cause after football what is there??? A life lol if your team won in 2001 GREAT!!! Save that story for the bbq and your grandkids lol and Kahuku 82 the State can not put geographical restrictions on a Private school because it is a “Private” school paid by “Private” people and not by the state ☺ last time I checked the RB from Kahuku told the news that the Coach went to Samoa to talk to him about playing at Kahuku…oh wait that’s geographically close lol

  12. "UNITY=STRENGHT" October 10, 2015 2:16 am


    1) Putting the pieces together using the knowledge that one already has. Usually obtained by having actual life experiences, as opposed to sitting at a desk of in front of a textbook all day.

    The only type of knowledge in life that is truly useful over 99% of the time.

    1) Jimmy spent eight years at his desk getting his advanced degree in mechanical engineering. He was hired happily straight out of college making $105,000 a year, but ultimately failed at even the simplest of automotive tasks, since he lacks the “COMMON SENSE” to so much as change his oil.

    It also took him 45 minutes to find the entrance on the hooker he hired on a lonely Friday night. @ Good Story or is this a typo?

  13. boomboomshakedaroom October 10, 2015 5:30 am

    ** Dead horse **

  14. Good Story October 10, 2015 7:23 am

    @ OIA watcher
    Please remember that our coach is from the ILH, bad habits will take time to break.

    @ “UNITY=STREN…”

  15. Manley October 10, 2015 1:00 pm

    Oh, so that rb from Samoa goes back to Samoa after school? Really, you think Kahuku do not have studs ready to run the rock? Oh and who paid for the plane tickets for the ciach,player etc?

  16. FUKI October 10, 2015 7:06 pm

    The Kahuku running back grew up in Laie…I know cuz I coached him before he left. Dont talk about kids unless u know facts about them. Punahous running back, quarterback, fullback are all from Laie. Kamehameha didn’t get it done, dont cry about it. Das on dem. U can’t beg to be in a championship game when u dont win when it counts. Kahuku would stomp all over everyone every year if their kids stayed home n ILH didn’t touch them. So ILH has no room to cry…they recruit, they spend money, they offer sponsorships. Yea they compete. They better compete!!! With all they have and offer, thats the least they should do.

  17. 88 October 10, 2015 8:48 pm


  18. Imua54 October 11, 2015 1:10 pm

    Honestly the ILH schools do recruit a bunch of guys and if they were allowed more berths then the ILH championship would become the State championship some years. Its unfortunate that some mediocre OIA teams get into the playoffs while top tier ILH teams sit on the sideline but ultimately I believe the final game usually has the true #1 vs the true #2 going head to head especially with the OIA putting out very strong programs in Mililani and Kahuku this year for instance. I am a Kamehameha grad and though it sucks, I believe the system works fairly well (although putting an extra ILH berth would make things exciting). I honestly think there should be stronger preseason games between OIA and ILH powerhouses to make state rankings more accurate.

  19. phILHarmonic October 11, 2015 10:06 pm

    I can’t wait for the second round. Favorite time of the year! ! Good luck to all the players.

  20. phILHarmonic October 11, 2015 10:26 pm

    If a family is approached with an opportunity to send their son to Private School, why shouldn’t they? If the finances and logistics are aligned why not?
    Because you are creating an unfair advantage against your home school athletic teams. Yeesh.

  21. scholarships October 12, 2015 12:26 pm

    On the topic of ILH schools and their sports-related scholarship opportunities offered, unlike the rest Kamehameha does not specifically single out students for their athletic abilities. All students that attend the school are on scholarship, technically.

  22. sum1 October 13, 2015 3:46 pm

    Please. The truth about recruiting is that if you have the resources why wouldnt you. To offer a kid a better education why wouldnt you take it. Also, not all students who play in the ILH are recruited. Actually, far from it. The amount of students who go to school out of district in the OIA for sports is waaaaay higher than “recruited” kids. Youre talking about a very select, small group of individuals in the school who play on scholarship. Its not the individuals or kids or whatever other excuse people make. Its the attitude of excellence that makes a schools program strong. While few teams in the OIA like kahuku have always had that mindset (recently mililani), you cant even begin to understand the extreme attitude that all kids who go into any of the 4 big ILH schools have (punahou, st louis, kamehameha, iolani). You breathe excellence. You eat perfection. You sleep on championships. To be frank, ILH athletics are on a whole different mental level than the majority of any other Hawaii athletics conference. I guess the ratio of teams in the state is even. You gotta put in 5 teams with a 10% chance to maybe beat one team with an 80.

  23. ilh October 20, 2015 1:39 pm

    This should be a Division, KAHUKU, WAIANAE, MILILANI, LEILEHUA, KAPOLEI, FARRINGTON, KAILUA, ST. LOUIS, PUNAHOU, KAMEHAMEHA, 10 teams 9 games, now let’s see who can finish 9-0 with these match-ups every week, these games would make the League MONEY, isn’t what it’s all about today, Money, but you know this ain’t gone to happen because the O.I.A. will still be crying about the I.L.H. recruiting players, so if that’s so maybe the OIA should just play with the O.I.A. and have their own Championship, and the I.L.H. do the same, as far as the State Championship goes, go see what you can come up with.

  24. RR4Life November 21, 2015 12:27 pm

    You can put to rest the notion that the ILH reigns supreme with elite defenses as this article mentions above that Kamehameha had one. Give me a break. Kahuku’s defense is far superior to any ILH defense. St. Louis routinely put up 30+ points and 450+ yards against Kamehameha and Punahou.. Against St. Louis in the state championship game, Kahuku shut them down. I rest my case. The Iolani QB broke the school record against Kamehameha. Let’s just hope the DC at Kamehameha doesn’t slap his assistant in the future let alone stop offenses lol

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

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