High school sports budgets get relief from donors


POSTED: Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Normally, the bottom line is about money.

In this case, though, the ultimate bottom line is Hawaii's youth. Four local institutions stepped up and made a difference yesterday. The Clarence T.C. Ching Foundation ($200,000), First Hawaiian Bank ($100,000), Bank of Hawaii ($50,000) and The GIFT Foundation ($50,000) became lead donors to public school athletic departments, giving a total of $400,000 to help salvage budgets statewide.

Jack Tsui, chairman of the Ching Foundation, hopes this is just the start.

“;We hope this serves as a catalyst. It's such an opportunity in tough times for real leaders to step up to the fire,”; he said. “;(Hawaii High School Athletic Association executive director) Keith (Amemiya) stepped up and I challenged him to come up with more donors. These young men and women are the future of our country.”;

It was a welcome shift to good news for athletic directors, who learned recently that their budgets would be slashed by 50 percent for the coming school year. Combined with cuts announced in December, athletic budgets statewide faced a $1.2 million deficit.

Yesterday's gift from the donors, coordinated by Amemiya, was timely. Molokai, which has a travel expense of more than $50,000 annually, can breathe a bit easier.

“;I wake up at night worrying about it,”; Molokai athletic director Camie Kimball said. She was smiling after the news.

Lanai also has a serious budget challenge year to year. With unemployment at 12 percent, families are struggling more than ever.

“;But now the glass is half full,”; athletic director David McHugh said.

Molokai and Lanai were among many schools that weren't sure how they'd have the funding to finish the entire year of athletics.

“;It's about $4,000 for a team to recondition its football equipment,”; Big Island Interscholastic Federation executive director Lyle Crozier said. “;The donations couldn't have come at a better time.”;

At McKinley High School's M.M. Scott Auditorium, donors extolled the value of athletics and the need to plant seeds even in the midst of an economic drought.

“;You grasp responsibility and teamwork. It's a real bonding experience,”; said Tsui, who played football as a youngster.

“;At this level, it's important that kids be occupied and learn discipline. This gives them a real sense of being part of something. It takes good teachers and good students, and athletics provide a core value,”; Tsui said.

Even with the enormous donations, the remaining deficit means many teams may still limit roster sizes. It's tough to estimate how many athletes will miss an opportunity for participation this year, but the situation is gut-wrenching for coaches and administrators.

“;Athletics was the way I got to college,”; said former Waimea football player Jon Kobayashi, who returned to his alma mater to become a coach and is now athletic director. He lost his father at a young age and found direction through sports.

“;If it wasn't for my coaches, I don't know what would've happened. They mentored me. Athletics gave me focus,”; he said.

Amemiya is steering this fundraising drive apart from his organization. He dipped into his own pocket to help Molokai and Lanai, giving $20,000. He also wants coaches to survive the cost-cutting measures.

Pearl City's football staff, led by head coach Kai Kamaka Jr., had already offered to waive their stipends — essentially donating their paychecks.

“;It was in the best interest of the school,”; Kamaka said.

Amemiya called the coach on Friday and told Kamaka that he and Bonnie, his wife, will pay their checks — a sum of $10,000.

“;Although I applaud their generosity and commitment, it's simply unfair for them to have to pay money out of their own pocket for essential supplies and equipment,”; Amemiya said.

Yesterday's $400,000 donation will be deposited into a separate account. Allocation will be determined by the size of athletic departments in a formula devised by Dwight Toyama, the Department of Education's liaison for athletic programs.

“;This is great. Hopefully there will be more,”; said Toyama, who has been executive director of the Oahu Interscholastic Association for more than a decade.

“;Everyone is knocking on their doors,”; he said of the donors. “;We all appreciate them.”;

Amemiya drew praise from donors and administrators — including DOE superintendent Pat Hamamoto — for his effort. His drive began in December after the initial cut to junior varsity programs.

“;I could see the issue of insufficient funding could be a problem for the next few years,”; he said. “;My first call was to Jack Tsui, who is a good friend and mentor.”;

The fine line between profit and charity isn't easy for any business in this climate. Bank of Hawaii president Peter Ho has the full backing of CEO Al Landon.

“;He really emphasizes a balance,”; said Ho, who graduated from the same class at Punahou with Amemiya.

“;We're very fortunate. Our bank is doing very well because of our customers,”; said Ray Ono, vice chairman of First Hawaiian Bank. “;Part of our responsibility is to help when help is needed. We hope this will help Keith build some momentum.”;

Maui Interscholastic League executive director Joe Balangitao breathed a sigh of relief, particularly for league members Lanai and Molokai.

“;Pat (Hamamoto) said it shows that the donors care about the community and giving back,”; he said. “;We're relieved and very appreciative. Hopefully, others will follow.”;