Friday, June 7, 2002

Lawmaker inquires
into idea of classifying
high school sports

Rep. Guy Ontai will see if the
Legislature can help on the issue

By Jason Kaneshiro

As Hawaii's high school athletic directors prepare to address the issue of classification for state tournaments next week, a state representative is making inquiries into possible action by the Legislature on the topic.

Rep. Guy Ontai (R, Wheeler-Mililani) has asked the Legislative Research Bureau to look into the prospect of classifying high school athletics in the state, and could introduce a measure at the Legislature's next session.

"I'm just trying to figure out what other states do, how much it might cost and whether or not there's something reasonable the Legislature can do," Ontai said. "If not, maybe I can try to talk to the directors of the leagues to see if there's anything we can facilitate."

The Oahu Interscholastic Association and Interscholastic League of Honolulu already use a form of classification in several sports. But proposals to create state championships for classes based on the size and strength of schools have failed in recent years.

Ontai, a member of the House Education Committee, has not designed any formal plan to implement classification but hopes to have a report from the LRB by the end of the summer.

"In the Legislature, things have to evolve a little bit, so if anything, I was going to introduce a resolution to examine what it might cost and what it might look like," he said, "because even though you do research, it doesn't really mean it's going to work.

"But I know the competition will be more meaningful if the kids got to play other schools of the same approximate strength and size."

Ontai said he has spoken to a few athletic directors and league officials as well as other members of the Education Committee. Although he received some positive feedback, he said concerns about costs remain.

"If it's going to happen, the Legislature has to act responsibly in providing resources and not just say, 'Do this, and figure out how to pay for it,'" Ontai said.

"It's going to cost more and is it worth doing? That's going to be the question."

He said the cost of transportation for teams is high among the concerns of league officials whose schools are already strapped for cash in many cases.

"Maybe we need a little more money for transportation so we can have reasonable competitions within the schools," Ontai said.

Ontai's request coincides with the Hawaii Interscholastic Athletic Directors Association's annual conference, which starts Sunday on Kauai.

Included on the conference agenda is a proposal submitted by the Hawaii High School Athletic Association's football subcommittee to implement a two-tier state tournament for football next season.

The Maui Interscholastic League has also proposed the formation of a committee to explore the possibility of holding Division II competition in the other HHSAA state tournaments.

"The issue of classification for all sports has been raised for the past several years," said HHSAA Executive Director Keith Amemiya. "And with the continued growth of the number of high schools across the state, it's becoming more and more of a viable topic."

Any matters passed by HIADA next week face final approval by the HHSAA executive board.

A Division II football tournament was proposed at last year's HIADA conference on the Big Island but was rejected in a committee meeting.

Ontai said he witnessed both ends of the competitive spectrum at his children's games. He said he watched his share of blowouts when his daughter, Krystalyn, played basketball and soccer at ILH power Kamehameha.

His son, Garyk, is an incoming sophomore on the Damien football team, which was at the center of last summer's classification firestorm when school officials said the team would forfeit its games with St. Louis.

The move prompted the ILH to divide the league into two divisions for football. The league also holds Division I and Division II play in boys and girls water polo, basketball and paddling.

The OIA has used a form of classification for football for the last decade by dividing schools into Red and White conferences depending on their performance the previous season.

"I know on the public-school side they've tiered only football, but I think they should use it for all sports," Ontai said.

Ontai, a Kamehameha graduate, just finished his first term as the representative for the 39th district and will run for office in the reapportioned 37th district in the fall.

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