HIGH SCHOOLS: CLASSIFICATION
Amemiya satisfied with current system
On Aug. 1, Keith Amemiya celebrates 10 years on the job as executive director of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association. One of his accomplishments is implementation of a classification system in several sports, creating better opportunities for smaller schools with fewer resources to compete for championships. While the system is not perfect, Amemiya says public response has been positive. He recently sat down to answer questions from Star-Bulletin reporters about the status of classification in Hawaii and related topics.
Q: From your perspective what are some of the highlights of classification in Hawaii high school sports?
A: It has created a surge in interest in Hawaii high school sports in that it has provided new opportunities to many of our schools, particularly small ones to compete for state championships.
Q: How about exposure for individual student-athletes to show their potential to colleges and, in the case of baseball, pro scouts?
A: That's valid. Without a doubt, Division II state tournaments have brought attention to many athletes from schools that ordinarily wouldn't qualify for state tournaments when there was just one classification. For example, the Division II football state tournament brought statewide attention to Waimea's Jordon Dizon and Hawaii Prep Academy's Daniel Teo-Nesheim and Max Unger, just to name a few.
Q: With transportation and other costs a growing concern, can you speak specifically to how the HHSAA plans to continue holding as many tournaments as it does? Do Division II tournaments create a burden that has to be covered by other more profitable tournaments?
A: From an HHSAA standpoint, the Division II tournaments have been financially successful in that they've either broken even, and in some cases made money, particularly football.
We're extremely fortunate in that we've had many corporate sponsors and foundations underwrite tournaments. Already the HHSAA provides travel stipends to traveling teams in football, girls basketball and softball, and we hope to add more sports in the future.
Q: Aren't some of these sponsors tightening up for fear of tough economic times ahead?
A: So far we've been fortunate in that all our sponsors have agreed to continue in their roles for the upcoming school year.
Q: You've mentioned that geography creates problems when it comes to classification. Could you elaborate please?
A: Hawaii is in a unique situation in that we're the only island state in the country. Therefore, we can't necessarily implement classification criteria used on the mainland. For example, on the mainland, it's possible where necessary to have teams travel hundreds of miles by bus to compete, here of course, that's not possible. One of our leagues has no choice but to travel by air. The MIL has enormous financial challenges, getting teams between Maui, Molokai and Lanai.
Q: Are there one or two states that, besides the geographic issue, you based the Hawaii classification system on?
A: We've realized that because of Hawaii's unique situation there isn't any one particular state that has a model we can follow. We've been forced to improvise and take sections from several different states.
Q: Are there other states in this situation Hawaii is in with big schools playing significantly smaller schools for state championships?
A: Because of the distance between schools, there are states that allow for big schools to play smaller enrollment schools during league competition. I am not aware of such an arrangement for state tournaments elsewhere.
Q: In Hawaii, the leagues determine how they classify. There is a general perception that interleague politics and long-standing grudges determine policy. But is it truly island geography and economics more than politics that resulted in the kink of large enrollment schools playing in the Division II classification?
A: Absolutely. It's about geography more than politics.
Q: Some people have floated the idea of three classifications. Your thoughts?
A: Perhaps down the line we can explore that possibility. But for now, I don't sense any groundswell to start a third division anytime soon, particularly because we're still fine-tuning our two-division system. Two other reasons would be the cost to run a third tier of state tournaments, and the small number of schools that would qualify for a third division.
Q: Some advocate a form of classification that would prohibit competition between public and private schools. Do you have an opinion on this?
A: Relations among our public and private schools have been better than ever. I rarely, actually never, hear any talk about splitting private and public schools from our coaches or athletes. Let me add on that. If we were to use the logic that the public schools should break away from the private schools because they don't have the same financial resources and facilities, then the University of Hawaii has no business trying to compete against schools from the BCS conferences. Of course, that's silly and not even an issue with most sports fans across the state. My observation is that the public schools relish the opportunity to compete against the private schools. And, in fact, have done well in some high profile sports, such as Leilehua and Kahuku in football, and Konawaena in girls basketball.