A month or so ago, Konawaena dominated Kohala in a 76-0 win.
A few weeks later, with injuries mounting and morale at a low — they didn’t have enough for an 11-on-11 workout — Kohala closed shop for the season, forfeiting the rest of their games.
Now, after a 91-8 win by Konawaena against Ka‘u, questions are going to surface again. Are the Wildcats running the score up? Do they belong in Division II?
Frankly, they’re normal questions. But as we’ve seen in the past, runaway scores have more to do with struggling, young programs than a “pile-it-on” scenario.
>> 1984, Konawaena 86, Pahoa 0 — Pahoa throws on almost every down and Konawaena runs back a bunch of picks. The clock stops on every incomplete pass. No mercy rule in place back then.
>> 2012, Konawaena 76, Kohala 0 — Kohala throws on most plays in a 76-0 loss to Konawaena. Konawaena has 19 plays from scrimmage total, 387 total yards.
This time, it was 70-8 at the half. Konawaena, a prolific passing team, had just 12 attempts. Kahoali‘i Karratti completed nine of them and seven were touchdowns. Two starters were held out of the game, and linebacker Mike Rabara saw limited action. Konawaena JV players played, and every Wildcat got playing time.
In other words, Friday night’s score could have been … worse.
At this point, I’m convinced that Kohala and Ka’u should be in Division III or 8-man football, period. Pop Warner comes and goes in those districts. Consistent adult leadership in the feeder programs isn’t always there, as was the case in the 1990s when Anthony Manantan was at Kohala Chargers Pop Warner, then moved up with his players to the high school — and the Cowboys were very competitive. (Jacob Hook at quarterback, anyone? He was solid.)
Here’s some great input from former Hawaii Prep lineman Derrick Hanano, now a Pop Warner coach in Kona.
“Since we bought all new equipment this year, most of our old (but still good) equipment went to Ka‘u Pop Warner and the rest went to Kohala. Equipment is usually the first hurdle. You should see Kohala and Kau travel! They came to Kona last week with more fans than I’ve seen at a Pop Warner game in a while. Excited fans at that! I think things are looking up for both Pop Warner programs.
“What helps too is not getting your (okole) handed to you. Before the game, I gave all coaches (in Mitey Mite and Pee Wee) specific directions to not run up the score. I didn’t want these kids going back to Kohala with no will to go back to practice on Tuesday. Hopefully the awesome support from their fans keeps them excited to play, thus keeping the program going. Ultimately in football, no one wants to see a 91-8 score.”
Derrick was a superb lineman who played for the iconic Gordon Bryson at HPA, then went on to play college football before returning home. He’s a big part of the solution as a coach and organizer. I’ve seen the great results that coaches like him bring to a community. I’ve also seen the other side, places where population dwindles in a stagnant economy. Where the cycle of players becoming coaches dies out.
On Oahu, I’ve seen a few lazy communities. I also see a few strong communities, not necessarily rich in material resources, but blessed with community pride and leadership. As Derrick noted, Ka‘u and Kohala can get it done.
Long term, though, I wonder if 11-man football is a good fit for those small communities unless leadership is constant and consistent. Eventually, Division III would be ideal. (Bob Wagner may have retired, but his vision lives on.) Better yet, 8-man football. The MIL has four 8-man teams and ILH’s small schools on the west side are looking into it.
Derrick’s perspective is a bit surprising, given the reluctance of some Big Island coaches, players and fans to try a different format.
“I’d go with 8-man. A few guys that I played with in Oregon came from 8-man programs,” he said.
In the MIL, two seasons of exhibition play have led to this fall, the first sanctioned season of league championship play in 8-man football. Tiny Seabury Hall, which is in first place, has 36 on the roster. Molokai has nearly 40. Even Hana, one of the state’s smallest high schools, has 25 players.
An 8-man league in the BIIF, even under ideal conditions, would need time to develop, but not as much as the MIL. Seabury Hall, Hana and Molokai had to start from scratch. Kohala, which has a school van ready to be used for traveling — and would save the athletic program on $360 per game for bus rentals — and Ka‘u would need more 8-man partners to get started.
Fans point to Makua Lani, Pahoa, Christian Liberty and Laupahoehoe as schools that might support 8-man teams. It’s a long shot, but if the MIL, ILH and BIIF have 8-man football leagues, the HHSAA could sanction it as a state championship sport.
But is the will there?
Paul Honda, Star-Advertiser