Keith Amemiya


POSTED: Friday, July 03, 2009

High school sports provides budget entertainment for the whole family.

That's the way Keith Amemiya sees it, and the executive director of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association hopes that even in the recession's grip, fans will keep filling the stands in the coming school year, buying the tickets that support the nonprofit that serves more than 33,000 student-athletes at 94 public and private schools.

Besides gate receipts, the HHSAA's main revenue sources are corporate sponsorships and dues paid by member schools. Amemiya, a 43-year-old lawyer and Punahou School alum, is making the best of it as purse strings tighten — and that includes marketing high school sports not only as a vital resource for students and schools, but for the larger community.

Question: What challenges is the recession creating?

Answer: We're extremely fortunate that the HHSAA is doing OK financially in large part because we've had great crowds at our state championships this past school year and the corporate community has continued to support us. However, like everyone else the HHSAA is concerned about its financial well-being during this severe economic downturn. Additionally, there's no question that our public schools are going to take a large hit in terms of Department of Education funding in the coming school year.

Q: How big a hit?

A: Like the rest of the public school system, one of the biggest challenges facing our public high schools right now is that they still aren't sure about the exact amount of cuts that they'll be facing. This makes it extremely difficult for our public schools to plan out the school year in terms of scheduling games and deciding what sports, if any, to consider cutting.

Q: Are any sports being eliminated outright?

A: At this point, due to the anticipated severity of the cuts, I would have to say that all options have to be on the table, including the cutting of individual sports, or even the entire JV level. We certainly hope that it doesn't come to that, but like everyone else, we're facing an economic crisis not seen in most of our lifetimes.

Q: There's been a lot of news about budget cuts at the public schools, but what about the private ones?

A: Even our private schools are not immune to the current economic crisis. They're cutting their overall budgets as well, which includes athletics.

Q: In your 10 years in the job, you've overseen an expansion of high school sports. Are you worried that will be undone, or do you think most of these problems will be temporary?

A: I'm optimistic that these financial problems will be temporary and that there won't be any permanent cuts. 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.

Q: What are some solutions?

A: We're hopeful that the community will continue to support our high school athletes by continuing to attend their games and contests in the upcoming school year. It not only would help our athletic programs financially, but it is an extremely good family entertainment value and promotes positive community spirit in these difficult times. We truly feel that high school athletics is one of the best entertainment values around, when compared with other options, such as going to the movies or a concert.

Q: You and your wife, Bonny, gave $20,000 to Roosevelt. Why that particular project?

A: We donated to Roosevelt High School for several reasons, including because it's a public school and we strongly believe in supporting our public school system. Also, Roosevelt's field is used by several public schools for their home games, including not only obviously Roosevelt but also Farrington, McKinley and Kaimuki. Thirdly, most people would agree that Roosevelt had among the worst field conditions in the state, and finally, we live in the district and wanted to support our community in general.

Q: There's been speculation that you might run for office, say state Senate or lieutenant governor. Do you have political aspirations? A: I was as surprised as anyone to be named as a possible candidate and I'm sure it gave everyone a good laugh. So, no, I'm not seeking to run for political office at this time. However, that being said, I'm very concerned about the current economic crisis and Hawaii's long-term future, so it's my hope that everyone gets involved in the political process by at least trying to understand the issues our state is facing, and by voting.