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StarBulletin.com

For the love of the game


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POSTED: Tuesday, December 22, 2009

There's a lot to be said for the life of an attorney.

Pick one, any one, who is a Punahou graduate, and picture the stylish downtown office and a challenging, yet lush life in first class. It was all in the grasp of a one-time track kid from Punahou.

When Keith Amemiya left the world of law in 1998, it wasn't for a pay raise, that's for sure. Then 32, he became the first executive director of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association who did not have extensive coaching and athletic administration experience. In fact, he was an outsider who didn't fit the normal circle of decision-makers in the hierarchy of high school athletics.

It turned out to be the best decision he could've made, both for himself and for the student-athletes across the islands. His five-year plan included ideas that faced skepticism, to say the least. Eleven years later, his multitude of accomplishments is unprecedented.

From the implementation of Division II—bringing classification to the islands after long-standing resistance—to the establishment of state championships for various girls sports, Amemiya possessed a golden touch. But nothing caught the general public's attention as much as his commitment to raise funds for athletic departments this year.

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Amemiya's greatest skill, perhaps, is the ability to bring disparate entities together for the common good. In July, with the state's public school athletic departments facing an additional $1.2 million budget cut, Amemiya got the ball rolling and hasn't stopped since with the Save Our Sports campaign, raising more than $1.2 million from corporations and individual citizens.

During his 11 years at the helm, he hasn't lost sight of the soul of sports at the prep level. He and his wife, Bonny, have donated tens of thousands of dollars to schools. Their more recent actions: the new scoreboard at the renovated football/soccer facility at Roosevelt, which was dedicated with a new name: Ticky Vasconcellos Stadium; and the donation of $30,000 to Molokai and Lanai high schools to help offset immense travel costs.

The Amemiyas' loyalty to student-athletes extended to their home. When Molokai's super-athlete, Kalei Adolpho, lacked accommodations to stay on Oahu for summer basketball training, she found willing hosts in Keith, Bonny and son Christopher. Adolpho's improvement in the off-season wasn't lost on recruiters.

The University of Hawaii, with new women's basketball coach Dana Takahara-Dias, offered the junior center a scholarship, and Adolpho gave a verbal commitment to play for the Rainbow Wahine.

It certainly was a year when one man, one family, made a huge difference. But with Amemiya set to leave the HHSAA at the end of the academic year, it's only fitting that the one man who helped spur vital changes behind the scenes will depart having made as much of an impact—probably far more so—than he would have as a lawyer.

Ask him and he'll probably tell you: These 11 years have been far more satisfying than he could've imagined while he was in law school, studying commercial litigation.

Keith Amemiya reached administrators, coaches and student-athletes without drawing up a single play or blowing a whistle. He made change happen by bringing people together.

Hawaii's children are better for it.