Sunday, June 17, 2001

Damien gives up
St. Louis games
over safety issue

Damien's president cites a
potential for injury in his letter

By Dave Reardon and Ben Henry

Damien will forfeit its two varsity football games against St. Louis this fall, according to a letter Damien president Gregory O'Donnell sent to St. Louis president Allen DeLong last week.

The letter cites issues of player safety and liability, O'Donnell told the Star-Bulletin yesterday.

Last year, St. Louis beat Damien, 49-7 and 84-0. In their past six meetings, perennial nationally ranked St. Louis has outscored Damien, 415-7.

"I'm afraid kids are going to get hurt in meaningless games," O'Donnell said. "I'm interested in the health of the kids, the well-being of the student-athletes. I don't want to put them into a game that's a forgone conclusion and this is a year that we're particularly young and small. We're going to have five seniors.

"I wrote a very gracious letter. ... We're not enemies, we're friends. I'm talking about two, what I think would be, meaningless football games that I think have little to add to the scene."

St. Louis athletic department officials declined to comment when contacted yesterday by the Star-Bulletin. DeLong was not available.

"We lost six starters (to injury) against them," Damien head coach Chris Bisho said. "At this point they're physically superior to us. We did not belong in the same league with them last year.

"Last year the problem was compounded. I don't blame St. Louis. I know (Crusader head coach) Cal (Lee) didn't go out of his way to run up the score. The kids are just playing football."

Both private schools are members of the six-football team Interscholastic League of Honolulu. They have played each other every season since 1965, and twice every year except once since 1970. St. Louis is 56-7-1 against Damien.

ILH Executive Secretary Clay Benham declined to speculate yesterday on the potential league-wide effects of a team refusing to play another. But he did say the league is looking at developing a form of classification.

"We are presently doing a careful examination of our football program and considering different options," Benham said. "Classification could take place as it has in other sports. All I can say at this point is we are studying it. Hopefully we can come up with a format. Hopefully in time (for this year)."

ILH officials are scheduled to meet tomorrow to discuss the issue.

One proposal has the ILH splitting into two divisions for football.

Kamehameha, Punahou and St. Louis would be in one; Damien, Iolani and Pac-Five in the other. Teams would play those in their division twice and those outside once. That would cut each team's league schedule down from 10 games to seven, but schools would be free to schedule additional games.

Last year the ILH commissioned a panel to improve competitive balance.

One new rule for this year limits teams to suiting up a maximum of 65 players for games. St. Louis and Kamehameha have had close to 100 varsity players in recent seasons, partly due to the lack of an ILH junior varsity league.

Lee also proposed a classification system last month which included allowing St. Louis and Kamehameha to field two teams each, but the proposal did not pass.

Physical safety of players and competitive balance are growing issues in the ILH and throughout Hawaii high school football. Teams other than St. Louis and Damien have also been involved in an increasing number of lopsided mismatches.

The Oahu Interscholastic Association has a two-tier system for regular season football.

"Why should we have to play St. Louis when Waialua doesn't play Kahuku?" Bisho said.

A proposal for a two-class state tournament playoff did not pass at last week's state athletic directors' conference.

Star-Bulletin writer Jason Kaneshiro contributed to this report

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