HIGH SCHOOLS: CLASSIFICATION
Sticking up for the little guy
Division II needs to be returned to the small schools it was intended to help
Just about the only folks with a preference for status quo in state classification of high school sports are the ones running the show.
From Hanapepe to Pahoa, the birth of Division II state championships over the past nine years has been fodder for conversation, even debate. Some feel that it's been a positive for kids everywhere in the islands. Smaller schools, like their brethren on the mainland, have a shot at legitimate state titles.
But for some fans and alumni, questions remain. While the rest of the country relies on enrollment as a criterion to separate the big schools from the small, the state's largest league won't budge. The Oahu Interscholastic Association continues to use a power rating - varsity and junior varsity win-loss records combined - as the only source of separation between Divisions I and II.
It's not that the OIA doesn't understand the concept. In fact, it was the OIA that created a three-tiered football format with Red, White and Blue conferences. It was a creative, novel concept that separated relatively tiny teams from the Goliaths of Kahuku and Waianae. It also fostered better competition. Even today, the OIA's distinctions are still labeled as Red and White "divisions."
The rest of the state could, if it chose to, overrule the OIA through the Hawaii High School Athletic Association executive board. The other leagues could tell the OIA that enrollment is the only way to go, and that the OIA would have to follow in step to participate in state championships.
Fans are quick to point out, however, that a school with 2,500 students has no business competing for a small-school crown against the likes of Pahoa or Hawaii Baptist.
However, not only won't the OIA budge, but other leagues have been sympathetic. A big reason is the lack of feeder programs to funnel into public high schools. Little League, for example, is no longer prolific in central Honolulu. In fact, there is no Little League between Halawa and Kaimuki now, partly due to higher registration fees.
The solutions are out there, but certainly can't be black and white, not when the makeup of leagues is so drastic from one to another. The OIA is mostly a large-enrollment league with a few exceptions. The ILH has a majority of tiny, private schools, but the big, traditional powers with the facilities have all the clout.
One possibility, to level the playing field for true D-II schools, would be to identify the top 20 or 25 largest enrollments statewide. Those schools would be branded Division I regardless of sport, regardless of win-loss record.
The remaining schools would then participate in D-II or D-I, if they elected to "play up" in the higher classification. A classic example, of course, is Kahuku. The school has an enrollment (1,155) that is near the state average, but regularly competes at the highest level in athletics. The Red Raiders would likely opt to continue playing in D-I for most sports.
Scheduling would appear to be a problem for leagues that are heavy with D-I teams (OIA) or D-II teams (Big Island Interscholastic Federation). However, creative solutions have always found their way onto the final schedule. In the BIIF, for example, D-I and D-II teams cross over for a round-robin slate in certain sports, while other sports will be segregated by division.
For now, whether anyone wants to admit it, there is an unfortunate byproduct of allowing one league to have a power-rating criteria for classification while the rest of the state uses enrollment as a rule: Division II is a "consolation" tournament.
That's why callers to sports talk shows are far more enthusiastic when schools like Kauai and Hawaii Baptist win state titles, as opposed to giant schools. When big schools win the "small-school crown", it's just not the same.
"There's a little bit of a stigma, but to be honest, the creation of classification has been far more successful than a lot of people thought it was going to be," HBA athletic director Deren Oshiro said. "It's been financially viable and created a lot of excitement."
Oshiro supports the current stance of all leagues - to allow individual autonomy. However, he is open to the idea of a set list of D-I schools according to enrollment.
"It might be something to look at. I don't want to speak on behalf of the league, but we decided there was merit in looking at the enrollment numbers (in 2007)," he said. "A school with the lowest enrollment number would not have to move up to D-I if they won the (league) D-II title."
The ILH came to that decision after La Pietra, a small school that won its D-II girls basketball title in the 2006-07 season, was forced to move into D-I. The league realized that the requirement would hurt the team, which had lost all its starters. The rule was changed, and enrollment became a primary criterion.
At the same time, any clarification of existing criteria could leave the ILH with a ratio-based number of state entries. As it is now, the league has enough teams in D-I - Sacred Hearts, by enrollment, plays almost exclusively in Division I now - to garner quite a few state berths.
"We're so small-school heavy. I think most people wouldn't want to get to the point where the ILH only gets one berth," Oshiro noted. "Some of those cookie-cutter type classification proposals to get a raw number, we might be concerned about."
HBA, with a low enrollment, would not be affected by any proposal that used a 1.5 multiplier for private schools, which is what Gary Oertel offered in his recent proposal. The Christian Liberty athletic director submitted his proposal at the Hawaii Interscholastic Athletic Directors Association conference in June. It cut through the morass of varying criteria across the leagues, but was shot down in committee partly because it had a 2.0 multiplier instead of 1.5, which is common on the mainland.
"For a small school that wins, I can see where, 'It doesn't bother us.' But if the sports program fell off and they weren't winning as much, I wonder if they'd feel the same way," Oertel said.
Christian Liberty, with 102 students, has been to state tournaments thanks to Division II. Oertel thinks a scale that would adjust according to the number of teams entered by sport, per league, would still allow as many as 10 OIA teams to play in Division II. That would be a compromise he would live with, particularly since the current stigma of D-II leaves a stale taste.
"Somehow with Division I and Division II, if it's not clear-cut that there's a reason why you're there. It's subjective, which is where we are now, and that's where we get this 'consolation' state champ. Playing only the teams that aren't 'good enough' to be in Division I," Oertel said. "That's kind of what we've created. If a team is winning, then they move up.
"I don't think that's what it's really about."
Both Oertel and Oshiro admit that the David-vs.-Goliath scenario of tiny schools against behemoths has a certain appeal. For OIA chief Dwight Toyama, sometimes it seems the public forgets that Goliath isn't really that big. It comes down to resources not just of schools, but families.
"It comes down to finances and whether people realize it or not, for example, just to play soccer costs 300, 400 bucks," Toyama said of year-round club teams. "A lot of kids in Palolo can't afford that. The communities that are successful have the developmental programs and the parents come from a different economical background."
There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. In Honokaa, former girls hoops coach Daphne Honma organized a summer team every year for more than a decade. The team traveled to mainland tournaments even as the region had economic ups and downs.
In many communities, there simply isn't the initiative by adults to volunteer and coach the youths. Should the true D-II communities and schools be subject to the apparent unavailability of coaches and leaders in other areas? Should a hard-working, small-school program be lumped together with a giant school that doesn't work as hard in certain sports?
In other words, should lack of commitment and, in some cases, community laziness, be enabled by administrators?
Toyama won't close the book on a creative new proposal.
"He should try again," he said of Oertel.
Proposal for classifying Hawaii high school sports
» Beginning with the school that is 20th in enrollment and ceasing with the school that is 25th, the line requiring Division I participation is drawn where the difference in enrollment between schools that are consecutive on the list is greatest. All schools above the line are barred from participating in Division II state tournaments.
Example: On the list below, the difference between No. 20 Hilo and No. 21 Iolani is 96 students, which is greater than the differences between Nos. 21 and 22, 22 and 23, 23 and 24 and 24 and 25, so the line is drawn between Nos. 20 and 21.
» Enrollments are doubled for single-gender schools.
» Private schools, because they are not restricted in where they pull students from, have their enrollments multiplied by 1.5 for the purpose of deciding whether they are restricted to Division I.
Example: Sacred Hearts and Saint Louis jump from 26th and 27th in enrollment to 14th and 15th because of the multiplier and cannot participate in Division II state tournaments.
» Leagues are allowed to run their regular seasons and playoffs in any way they see fit but are restricted in which schools they can send to Division II state tournaments.
Example: In the Oahu Interscholastic Association, schools such as Waipahu and Pearl City can compete in the league's equivalent of Division II (the White Division), but the league would need to designate a different school to represent it in the Division II state tournament.
» Any school falling below the line may "play up" to Division I, but the leagues must designate such schools prior to the official start of practice.
Below is a look at which schools would be restricted to Division I and the schools that would fall just short of being forced into Division I.
Top 30 schools by enrollment with 1.5 multiplier for private schools
|1. Kamehameha (ILH)
|2. Punahou (ILH)
|3. Waipahu (OIA)
|4. Farrington (OIA)
|5. Campbell (OIA)
|6. Mililani (OIA)
|7. Kapolei (OIA)
|8. Waianae (OIA)
|9. Moanalua (OIA)
|10. Leilehua (OIA)
|11. Pearl City (OIA)
|12. McKinley (OIA)
|13. Maui (MIL)
|14. Sacred Hearts (ILH)
|15. Saint Louis (ILH)
|16. Roosevelt (OIA)
|17, Kealakehe (BIIF)
|18. Baldwin (MIL)
|19. Castle (OIA)
|20. Hilo (BIIF)
DIVISION II, BUT CAN PLAY UP
* -- Single-gender schools. Enrollment is doubled.
|21. Iolani (ILH)
|22. King Kekaulike (MIL)
|23. Waiakea (BIIF)
|24. Kauai (KIF)
|25. Mid-Pacific (ILH)
|26. Aiea (OIA)
|27. Radford (OIA)
|28. Kaimuki (OIA)
|29. Kahuku (OIA)
|30. Kalani (OIA)
Sources: Department of Education for public school enrollment; Hawaii Council of Private Schools for private school enrollments