Preps chief Amemiya stepping down


POSTED: Friday, November 13, 2009

Keith Amemiya, the highly innovative head of high school sports in Hawaii the past 11 years, plans to resign from his post, the Star-Bulletin has learned. His resignation as executive director of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association would take place at the end of this school year, sources confirmed.

Amemiya declined comment.

His name surfaced earlier this year as a potential candidate for lieutenant governor, but he said last month he had no plans to run.

According to a source, Amemiya wanted to step down last year, but stayed on to organize a major fundraising effort to alleviate public school sports budget problems.

For more than a decade, Amemiya, an attorney by trade, has brought new ideas and expanded the reach of high school athletics in Hawaii.

Under his watch, the HHSAA provided the spark to move athletics into a new age. From the creation of Division II at the state-tournament level to the Save Our Sports fund managed by the HHSAA—Amemiya's ties to the business community have generated more than $1.3 million in donations since July—the highlights have been monumental.





        Some highlights of Keith Amemiya's 12 years as head of the HHSAA:

» Established the first state football championship in 1999 to end the Oahu-only Prep Bowl


» Created Division II sports at the state level, starting with football in 2003




Brought the nation's No. 1 high school football team, De La Salle (Calif.), to play Saint Louis at Aloha Stadium in 2003


» Coordinated the Save Our Sports fund managed by the HHSAA. Donations have topped $1.3 million since its inception in July




From the start, Amemiya's vision was virtually bigger than life. He told the Star-Bulletin's Cindy Luis in 1999: “;It doesn't hurt to think big. I would like to continue to make the state tournaments as first-class as possible.”;

Of 18 applicants in 1998, he was a unanimous choice by the selection committee looking to fill the void created when Dwight Toyama left to guide the Oahu Interscholastic Association. He took over at a time when the HHSAA was only three years into its independence, no longer counting on the state for funding. His background in athletics? He was a track runner at Punahou, and after college specialized in commercial litigation—not a single athletic administrative post on his resume.

Since 1998, state championships were established in girls wrestling, air riflery, cheerleading, girls golf, girls water polo and judo. Hawaii has the most high school sports championships in the nation.

In 1999, he began the first of many key moves to make the HHSAA more transparent to coaches, athletes and fans by adding a director of information position for the organization's Web site.

Also that year, the first state football championship tournament was established, bringing an end to the Oahu-only Prep Bowl.

The HHSAA and Hawaii Sports Network joined arms to create a three-year TV agreement to air state tournaments beginning in 2000, an unprecedented deal.

With him as a middle man, the nation's No. 1 football team, De La Salle (Calif.) traveled to the islands to play Hawaii's top team, Saint Louis, in 2003. Long Beach Poly, a California powerhouse, also came to play Kahuku, and the doubleheader drew one of the biggest crowds ever to see prep football at Aloha Stadium.

Also in 2003, the Division II state football tournament was established and, over time, D-II state tourneys were created for nearly every team sport, boys and girls.

In need of a makeover, Roosevelt's busy, battered football field was replaced with state-of-the-art synthetic turf as Amemiya and the school's alumni association worked in tandem to raise more than $4.5 million in public and private funding. The field—and a brand-new scoreboard donated by Amemiya and wife Bonny, was christened Ticky Vasconcellos Stadium, honoring the former Roosevelt athletic director.

The Nissan Hall of Honor banquet, now the HHSAA Foundation Athletic Awards Recognition Dinner, was established in 2006. In that same year, Amemiya helped Mayor Mufi Hannemann coordinate and establish Team Aloha, a girls basketball team that travels to the mainland annually for all-star tournaments.

In 2007, Hannemann named Amemiya to a newly created sports commission and the following year, with Punahou's standout linebacker/running back Manti Te'o generating nationwide attention, Amemiya choreographed the Hawaii/Polynesia vs. Mainland Bowl. The game was televised nationally.

In July of this year, $1.2 million in budget cuts hit Hawaii's public school athletic departments. Amemiya went to work on a major project to raise funding from the private sector, setting the wheels in motion for the HHSAA Save Our Sports campaign.

Amemiya told the Star-Bulletin's Christine Donnelly:

“;The way I see it, sports have such a positive impact not only on our student-athletes' lives, but on the whole community. I'm committed to doing anything I can to prevent any permanent cuts from taking place.”;

Among a multitude of corporate benefactors and numerous individual donations from the public, the HHSAA SOS campaign continues to raise more funding well past its original September closing date.

“;We're still receiving donations every day, so we'll keep doing it,”; he said earlier this week. “;It's extremely gratifying.”;

Also in July, the Amemiyas took a bold step forward, donating $20,000 to the athletic programs of Molokai and Lanai high schools. That helped ensure a full year of athletics for the outlying schools, which have to fly off-island for all league and state-tournament events.

“;It was just very generous of him,”; Molokai athletic director Camie Kimball told the Maui News. “;He called over the weekend and said, 'Camie, can you come to Honolulu on Tuesday?' “;

Once he leaves, there's nothing concrete yet for the future, though the possibilities are endless for a relatively young man—Amemiya is 44—with a Midas touch.

Star-Bulletin columnist Dave Reardon noted in his Oct. 23 column:

“;As for the HHSAA chief, he told me last night he's not running for anything in the coming election. There'd been a lot of talk about Amemiya as a lieutenant governor candidate, even some about the top spot. Not this time. 'But I still want to be involved in the political process,' he says.”;

Whatever process he steps into, there aren't a lot of surprised athletic administrators statewide. When Amemiya took the job, Ben Cayetano was governor and the Prep Bowl was still alive.

He expected to be with the HHSAA for five years; high school sports got double that plus change.