Budget realities starting to bite athletics


POSTED: Thursday, October 23, 2008

Every day, the news gets bleaker for the men and women who watch over high school athletics in Hawaii.

Yesterday's announcement by Gov. Linda Lingle that all positions are officially frozen in the DOE sent ripples down to the executive board members of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association.

The meeting at the office of the Oahu Interscholastic Association was already marked by concerns about budget cuts for the coming months and years. The freeze means that the Big Island Interscholastic Federation will continue with Lyle Crozier in an interim status as executive director.

Crozier, a longtime athletic director at Konawaena, was replaced by Chelsea Qualey, who had been interim AD at Ka'u. That means the position at Ka'u won't be filled any time soon.

Budget cuts across the board, not just affecting prep athletics, are a fact of life now. It's still a bitter pill to swallow for public schools that had been teetering between survival and shutdowns in recent years.

Executive directors from the state's five leagues agreed that shrinking budgets - and increased transportation expenses - could lead to shorter schedules and fewer games for nearly all sports.

Football, which generates a huge percentage of revenue, is something of a golden calf. Maui Interscholastic League chief Joe Balangitao doesn't see football getting cut, but he couldn't guarantee anything.

“;Never say never,”; he said.

On the Big Island, cross-island bus rentals are as high as $700. On Kauai, a round-trip ride from Kapaa to Waimea is $880, KIF chief Diane Nitta noted. Football revenue is essential.

An average football game, with about 1,000 in attendance, will generate roughly $5,000 in revenue, not including profits from concession stands.

“;I don't think we would (cut the schedule). We need the money,”; Crozier said.

The BIIF may return to divisions set by geography to save money. The West division would include schools from Konawaena to Honokaa, and the East would have teams from Laupahoehoe to Ka'u.

OIA chief Dwight Toyama isn't expecting a shorter football schedule.

“;Football would probably be status quo, but what happens tomorrow, I don't know,”; he said. “;We do have to be careful about gender equity.”;

If girls sports such as softball and soccer see a shortened schedule, Title IX proponents could make a case that football shouldn't be shielded.

The Interscholastic League of Honolulu has no plans to cut football games.

“;We will always take gender equity into consideration, but we don't have enough games to cut,”; ILH executive director Don Botelho said. “;As it is, our Division I teams play seven (league) games and D-II plays eight.”;

Among the issues discussed at the quarterly meeting was the possibility of shrinking state-tournament fields in the spring due to fiscal shortages. HHSAA director Keith Amemiya asked the board to come up with solutions for the spring and the 2009-10 school year in time for the athletic directors conference in June.

Toyama said the OIA could possibly cut schedules in the spring by 15 to 40 percent. He suggested that playing multiple games at one site, particularly with baseball and softball, would be one method to cut transportation costs.

Another cost cutter would be to use one bus to transport two teams, which was the case when Kahuku and Farrington played a girls basketball game at McKinley a few years ago.

“;We could also do it for bowling, cross country and other sports,”; Toyama said.

Some schools are starting to consider long-term solutions to the rising cost of rentals and gas. Ka'u, the most isolated high school on the Big Island, purchased a van last year.

There are some unexpected byproducts of rising expenses. Balangitao noted that some teams may not be able to keep large rosters - more than 50 players or so - because athletic departments won't be able to rent extra buses.

Then there are the outlying programs at Lanai and Molokai, which have seen travel costs skyrocket from $56 per athlete to more than $100.

“;Molokai has asked for no more cuts to transportation,”; Balangitao said. “;Instead of getting new uniforms every four years, we can stretch it to six or seven years. (But) if the transportation budget is cut in half, we can't travel.”;

Among the cost-saving solutions, Toyama said, would be to cut state fields. In cross country, instead of inviting the top 200 boys and 200 girls to run, he suggested cutting 40 percent - 160 harriers in all. That would save about $300 per runner (for transportation and boarding).

Toyama also sees a significant savings by whittling the 12-team state tournaments in sports like baseball and basketball to eight or six teams.

“;When things are not bad, we want as many kids as possible competing,”; he said. “;But now? We could save a half-million dollars.”;