HIGH SCHOOLS: CLASSIFICATION
Kahuku’s 1991 football blowout of Kalani sounded the signal for new system
It was Sept. 21, 1991, when an undersized and undermanned Kalani football team made the trek to the North Shore, where Kahuku awaited.
Once the Falcons -- all 21 of them -- arrived, the OIA Eastern Division contest wasn't much of one. Though the Red Raiders substituted liberally, Kahuku bowled over the Falcons and the game was called with 1:36 left in the third quarter when Kalani was reduced to 14 healthy players.
The score was 75-12 at the time.
"We scored a lot of points on a lot of people, and it wasn't that we were doing it to make a point -- the competitive balance wasn't there," then-Kahuku coach Doug Semones said. "We had 80 kids out for football and Kalani would get 30. ... All 80 guys would get in and they want to do good. Their parents are in the stands, too. When they get the ball they're going to try to score."
"We had 80 kids out for football and Kalani would get 30. ... All 80 guys would get in and they want to do good. Their parents are in the stands, too. When they get the ball they're going to try to score."
Kahuku head football coach during landmark 1991 game vs. Kalani
Though making a statement may not have been the Red Raiders' intent, the message was hard to ignore.
Whether that particular evening in Kahuku was the tipping point in Hawaii's move to high school classification is debatable, but it demonstrated the flaws with the geographic format of the time and the OIA stratified its football teams into Red, White and Blue divisions for the 1992 season, a precursor to the classified state tournaments that would arise some 11 years later.
The Interscholastic League of Honolulu split into divisions in 2001, prompted by then-Damien president Bro. Gregory O'Donnell announcing the school's intent to forfeit the Monarchs' meeting with Saint Louis, citing safety concerns.
The momentum rolled into the HHSAA instituting a classified state football tournament in 2003, and the Division II concept has expanded to include nine sports, with Hawaii's five leagues devising their own criteria to classify their schools.
The Oahu Interscholastic Association, composed primarily of the state's biggest schools, remains true to its performance-based formula, though the format has been modified through the years. The ILH switched to enrollment-based criteria last year, though it leaves some wiggle room for movement. Enrollment is also a significant factor in the Maui Interscholastic League and Big Island Interscholastic Federation, while the Kauai Interscholastic Federation's schools are all entered in Division II.
ILH member Hawaii Baptist Academy (enrollment 434) thrived under the ILH's new format, winning state D-II titles in boys and girls volleyball and qualifying for the boys basketball tournament this past school year. HBA also had five students on the Pac-Five softball team that won the D-II state championship.
"We've been fairly competitive, but with just a single state tournament to go to we had to finish in the top two or top three (in the ILH)," HBA athletic director Deren Oshiro said. No small task in a league that includes Punahou, Kamehameha and Iolani.
"But now that there's Division II we have the opportunity to compete against other small schools."
Still, that wasn't necessarily the case in the boys basketball tournament when the Eagles were joined in the semifinals by Aiea (1,255 students), McKinley (1,857) and eventual champion Farrington (2,530).
"For us, we were just happy to have an opportunity," Oshiro said. "It was a good experience even though those schools are huge.
"For us as a state, each of the leagues are so different ... I think each league being able to come up with a classification criteria that best meets its needs, that's the way it needs to continue at least for a while."
Now an assistant football coach and head baseball coach at northern Idaho's Sandpoint High, Semones has been removed from the situation in Hawaii for two years. But he recalls the impact of those early days of classification, not only at Kahuku but also neighboring Waialua, which had traditionally struggled in the OIA West.
"They had a winning season (in the Blue) and they were in the paper and those guys had a sense of pride," he said. "The school picked up and the attendance at the games picked up and it gave them an opportunity to be successful. I remember thinking that was cool, good for them."