A changeover to a nonpaid staffBy Alisa LaVelle
put the group behind schedule in
recruiting workers, an official said
The Ironman Triathlon World Championship had 7,000 volunteers last year, and Kailua-Kona residents made up 80 percent of that number.
So when reports surfaced that a lack of volunteers was partly to blame for the cancellation of this year's Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament in Kona, many people were taken aback.
"We were very surprised to hear that volunteers were to blame," said Tracy Keanaaina, spokeswoman for the Ironman. "We get a lot of support from the community."
Until the Ironman, the leading sports and tourist event in Kailua-Kona was the Billfish Tournament. The 41st annual event, originally scheduled for August, has been canceled, though the tournament is scheduled to resume next year on July 29.
Marni Herkes, head of the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce, blamed organizers for their lack of presence in the area.
"There's a lot of (community) volunteer support, and many of us turn out for the tournament," said Herkes, herself a volunteer for the past 40 years.
"It's more than not being able to attract volunteers," said Herkes.
Mike Nelson, former executive director of the tournament association, said the Kona people and the tournament are the greatest combination.
"It's unfair to volunteers; they do not rightly deserve blame," Nelson said. "The (community) volunteers show such great aloha."
Peter Fithian is no longer affiliated with the tournament that he founded, but he, too, agreed.
"We've had a wonderful 40 years. It's not true about the folks in Kona," Fithian said.
Roy Morioka, tournament chairman, blamed the cancellation on internal problems.
"This had nothing to do with the Kona governors or Kona volunteers," said Morioka.
"We had a change of leadership and got out of the chute late," he said.
Last September, the paid positions on the board of the Hawaii Billfish Tournament Association were eliminated because of financial problems, Morioka said.
The nonprofit organization struggled to reorganize and plan with an all-volunteer board, Morioka said.
Finally, "we decided not to do a tournament that would leave a lousy taste in people's mouths," Morioka said.
Daryl Turner, deputy director of the tournament, said his committee has been meeting to make sure next year's tournament is properly done.
He said the choices this year were to hold a reduced tournament, go into debt and do the usual tournament, or cancel.
"We're taking lumps now and feeling short-term pain, but for the long run this is good," said Turner, a volunteer for 27 years who uses his vacation time to be at the five-day event.
What organizers needed to do was start contacting participants and community volunteers immediately after the last tournament, Turner said. By January, little had been planned and only 27 participants had committed, he said.
The Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament brings an average of 59 teams from around the world to Kailua-Kona.
"Too many people have a lot of love and aloha for this event," said Turner, who grew up with the tournament.
"It's just we decided to do justice to the tournament."