Star-Bulletin Sports

Sunday, June 24, 2001



Special report: Can the field be leveled?

Problems rooted in
split of 31 years ago

Some of the reasons for the
ILH breakup still exist today

By Dave Reardon

IT'S BEEN 31 YEARS since the Interscholastic League of Honolulu was rocked so profoundly.

Wednesday's restructuring of the ILH divides the league's six football teams into two divisions for reasons of competitive balance. It is the most drastic change the league has undergone since 1970, when its five public schools broke away to join the Rural Oahu Interscholastic Association, forming the current Oahu Interscholastic Association.

Farrington, Kaimuki, Kalani, McKinley and Roosevelt left. Private schools Damien, Iolani, Kamehameha, Punahou and St. Louis remained, soon to be joined by Pac-Five, a conglomerate of smaller private schools.

In many ways, it signaled the beginning of the end of a golden era for high school football in Hawaii. No more public school-private school rivalries like Kamehameha vs. Farrington and Roosevelt vs. Punahou. And, in a few short years, no more Friday battles for school and community pride at Honolulu Stadium in Moiliili, now the site of a peaceful park.


Cal Chai:
Former Kamehameha coach
(1974 photo) says the split long ago
irreparably damaged the ILH


Jim Easterwood:
Former Star-Bulletin reporter
(1988 photo) called for football
classification decades ago

Clay Benham was the athletic director at Kamehameha at the time of the split and became the ILH executive secretary prior to the 1970 season. It's a post he's still at today.

"We were so successful and happy with what we had," Benham said. "We drew so well at the high school level. We would draw 20,000 to 25,000 at high school games when (the University of Hawaii) was lucky to have 5,000."

The breakup was caused by a key problem that still plagues high school football nearly everywhere: The inherent differences between public and private schools.

In general, public school athletes live in the area of the school. Private school athletes have no geographical limits. Some associated with public schools think some private schools are too aggressive in recruiting athletes to come to their school. It was as true in 1970 as it is now.

"There was a lot of finger-pointing going on," then-Kamehameha head coach Cal Chai said. "The public schools were really upset about recruiting."

Chai went on to be one of the most successful coaches in Hawaii history. But he said the split irreparably damaged the ILH.

"The breakup really hurt the league. There weren't many schools in the league to begin with," he said.

Larry Ginoza is another Hawaii high school coaching legend. He was building a dynasty at Waianae of the ROIA when the ILH refugees joined his team's league.

"The thing was up in the air for a few years and came to a head over recruiting," he said. "Somebody got a (public school) principal teed off and it went from there."

Said Benham: "We had many meetings to try to dissuade them from leaving, but to no avail."

Longtime Star-Bulletin sportswriter Jim Easterwood covered the breakup. In addition to recruiting, he blames a practice called retention, in which athletes repeat a school year to gain a year of strength and maturity when they play varsity sports.

"Some private schools held kids back in sixth grade for quote-unquote academic reasons," Easterwood said. "The five public schools were tired of it."

Easterwood was one of the state's most vocal advocates of high school football classification. It's been more than 10 years since he last opined in print against a system that created mismatch after mismatch.

"It's about 15 years too late, but that's great," said Easterwood, now retired in Lexington, Ky. "I always thought that should come about."

He's not alone in believing this shakeup of the ILH is a positive step and could lead to bigger things -- even if it isn't as radical as the bombshell of 31 years ago.

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