Star-Bulletin Sports

Wednesday, June 9, 1999

H A W A I I _P R E P _ S P O R T S

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Keith Amemiya, Executive director, Hawaii High School
Athletic Association: 'It doesn't hurt to think big. I would
like to continue to make the state tournaments as
first-class as possible.'

He's Got Vision

Hawaii High School Athletic
Association executive director Keith
Amemiya sees a bright future for prep
sports as they enter the new millennium

By Cindy Luis


KEITH Amemiya is the first to admit he wasn't a big-time athlete in high school. He ran track for Punahou School, the 400- and 800-meters.

Art His enjoyment came not from winning but from competing. It's that experience that the former attorney has brought to the Hawaii High School Athletic Association, a positive experience he wants to share with the athletes of the 72 schools that his organization oversees.

June 22 marks the one-year anniversary of Amemiya being named the executive director of the HHSAA. The 33-year-old is the third director in the three years since the association gained its autonomy from the Department of Education.

Stability is a priority -- stability within the organization as well as in the bank account.

High school sports in Hawaii is a business. Amemiya estimates his operating budget is $500,000, money obtained mostly through membership dues and corporate sponsorships.

He wrestles with major issues on a daily basis, issues his predecessors of the past 40 years didn't have to deal with: gender equity, television and radio contracts, lawsuits over athlete eligibility, the addition of more state tournaments to the 12 already in place.

There has rarely been a dull moment in the 10 months since he officially took office. When he becomes a first-time father next month, Amemiya will feel like a parenting pro.

"The past year seemed especially challenging because there always seemed to be a major issue to be dealt with," Amemiya said. "It's been 10 months, but sometimes it seems like 10 years. Although the job has been overwhelming at times, it's been exciting and rewarding as well.

"I wasn't necessarily looking for this job. A friend suggested I apply because I might be what the selection committee was looking for. I wasn't one of the 'old boys.' But I know there was also some skepticism because I came out of nowhere."

Amemiya had no athletic administration background; his law specialty was commercial litigation. Yet he was the unanimous choice out of the 18 applicants for the job.

What he lacked in experience, Amemiya apparently has made up for in enthusiasm and vision. On the horizon is the inaugural state football championship tournament, just one of the issues to be voted on at the annual Hawaii Interscholastic Athletic Directors Association conference that opens tomorrow on Kauai.

"It doesn't hurt to think big," he said. "We've expanded our website ( We want to expand our role in the high school athletic community by offering workshops, clinics, trade shows that would expose the athletic directors to new products.

"I would like to continue to make the state tournaments as first-class as possible, getting the best possible venues. And I'd like to see the HHSAA cater to the student-athletes beyond sports, with seminars in areas such as substance abuse, exercise training and nutrition. But that's the gravy. My first challenge is to have enough money to run the state tournaments."

Amemiya said he felt fortunate that his immediate predecessors - Ed Kiyuna, Dwight Toyama and Hank Kibota - had laid the groundwork for tournament title sponsorship. The HHSAA offers state tournaments in 12 sports, all of which had sponsorships of some sort.

"Finances are a great concern," Amemiya said. "I was lucky that, in my first year, a lot of the relationships and sponsorships were already in place. But believe it or not, I've somewhat changed my focus in respect to finance.

"It's imperative to have enough money to pay the bills, but I've come to realize you need to have a solid, viable product. What I want to work on is restoring the credibility and stability of the HHSAA so we can go after more sponsors. When we reach the level where we have too much money, I'll be happy."

A look at Amemiya's stance on key issues:

Moving the girls' basketball season to coincide with the boys' and most of the mainland. Currently the girls season runs from March to May; the boys' season is from January to March.

"There are compelling arguments on both sides," he said. "I think there are concerns over facility use. We don't have enough and no new ones are being built.

"I don't know how many more girls might be offered college scholarships if we moved it to the 'traditional' time. Girls' basketball is not the only sport 'out of season.' So are boys' volleyball, boys' and girls' soccer, softball. If we're going to change girls' basketball, then we'll have to look at all the other sports."

Gender equity. The HHSAA offers state tournaments in 12 different sports, 11 for boys and 11 for girls.

"I think the HHSAA has made tremendous strides," he said. "We added girls' golf this year and girls' wrestling was held for a second time. We are one of three states that offers a state championship for girls' wrestling."

The HHSAA spent $10,000 more on girls' sports this year.

On HSB 532 requiring gender equity in public high schools. The bill is awaiting Gov. Cayetano's signature.

"Whatever law is passed, we'll comply," he said. "But we'll do it because it's the right thing to do, not because it's the law.

"The bill is geared more to public schools and seems to duplicate Title IX. I'm not sure how it will affect us in that we don't receive federal or state funds."

The HHSAA is made up of 49 public and 23 private schools.

Adding state tournaments, including football. At least three leagues have to compete in a sport in order for it to be considered for a state tournament. The only sports that don't have a state tournament are football, air riflery, water polo, judo, canoe paddling, kayaking and gymnastics.

"We are adding air riflery in the next school year," Amemiya said. "And I expect the proposed football tournament to pass (this week). I'm open to adding more state tournaments. I see it as part of my job.

"The marketability of all our sports has increased because of football. TV stations are interested in football and we're proposing that it be made part of a package deal, maybe to include a weekly high school sports show.

"Football is going to cost money, but it's also an opportunity to make money.

"Every state in the country, with the exception of maybe Indiana and Michigan, relies on football to fund their operations. We view a state football tournament as an opportunity to showcase the best football players as well as make a profit."

Amemiya also wants to put more state tournaments on the neighbor islands.

HHSAA 2000. Besides the website, the HHSAA hired a media relations director for the first time - Thomas Yoshida. Amemiya would like to add more state tournaments as the organization branches out.

"Our long-term goal is to be recognized as a leader, not just a follower," he said. "My philosophy is to raise the bar, not to be satisfied with the status quo.

"I tell my staff 'Let's not just meet expectations but exceed them whenever we can.'

"We want for high school athletes to get the most of their experience. That means putting the state tournaments at the best possible venues, have radio and TV coverage whenever possible and start subsidizing for travel."

Amemiya 2000: He expects to be in the position for at least five years.

"My personal goal in my first year was to build trust and respect with the high school athletic community," he said.

"From the start, the coaches, athletic directors and principals have been very supportive and open-minded of my efforts.

"I know you can't buy respect, you have to earn it. That takes time. There are no personal agendas or goals that I'm putting ahead of the student-athletes. I have their best interests at heart."

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