Kalani Simpson


By Kalani Simpson

Hilo in danger of leaving
its fans behind

Hilo is gentle showers and bright sunshine and tall mountains and brilliant orchids and green. Everywhere, green.

Hilo is old buildings and history, and the nightly lullaby of rain on the roof.

And on the Big Island, believe it or not, Hilo is the big city.

(Or it used to be, before sugar died and Kona exploded.)

But what Hilo is not is Division I. And there's nothing wrong with that.

At least not to me.

But there is trouble now at UH-Hilo.

Trouble with differences of opinion, miscommunication and unfamiliar ways of thinking. And as old and new can find no common ground, you might argue about who is right or who is mistaken or who handled what how. But the one thing for sure is that with the very public disbanding of the Vulcan Boosters Club, something has gone very, very wrong.

It seems the boosters aren't in tune with the (relatively) new athletic administration's way of thinking, which includes hope for a leap to Division I.

With or without the boosters.

Fine. Leave them behind. Observers might say the boosters are closed minded or old-fashioned or stubborn or that they don't have "vision." But here's something to think about first: These are the people who care, really care, about UH-Hilo athletics. These are the people who are generating money to give to UH-Hilo athletics.

News flash. There aren't many of them. In the grand scheme of things, there is not an abundance of enthusiasm for Vulcan sports. There just isn't. Last season the basketball team, a proud program with a rich heritage, averaged 968 people a game. If you do things right, or differently, or better, will more come? Yes. Sure. But not that much more.

Hilo is not Division I.

And if it becomes so, so what?

What would that do for them?

Will the Hilo and Kona papers cover them any more than they do now? Will fans come out of the woodwork? Will money pour in?

There are no television stations on the Big Island. There aren't a lot of people. There isn't a lot of money. There isn't the base to support a Division I program, especially not as the second one in the state.

Hawaii-Hilo has a respectable following, but not a great one. Growing up in Kau, I thought the Vulcans were fine, was happy for them when they won, but did they get extra credit from me for being in Hilo?

No. I was a Rainbow fan.

At 968 fans a game, I'd say I wasn't alone.

Hey, that's life in Division II. Manoa has statewide support. Hilo has ... Hilo.

There is a group of ardent, hard-core Hawaii-Hilo fans, though. Small but mighty and passionate.

That would be the Vulcans Boosters.

You know, the people who felt so alienated that they finally quit.

WINNING IS WHAT brings more fans, at any level. Hilo has won in Division II, and can again (and still is, though we're still waiting for the next national championship). Winning in Division II is just as sweet, and small college sports are a wonderful thing. People in Hilo know that better than most. They have seen it firsthand. And at times it's been a fairy tale.

At Division I, UH-Hilo would have all the same old familiar Division I problems (conference affiliation, travel, scheduling, money, marketing, you've heard them all) that UH-Manoa faces. Without any of the history to help out.

(For example, the WAC is bound to UH by tradition, even if five-hour flights are a headache, financial and otherwise. You saw what the Mountain West folks thought about it.)

And even if it worked, and I'm wrong, if it succeeded beyond all expectations, then what? Then the University of Hawaii has created competition for itself. In some cases competition is a great thing. Here, it would dilute local resources of talent, attention, goodwill. And money.

Ah, money. That's Hilo's problem, not level of classification. Everyone says so, boosters and administration alike. There's less of it to go around these days, and that's the real issue.

That's what's holding Hilo back, not lack of "vision" or "dreams." (Those, all too quickly, have become mere buzz words when it comes to sports in this state.)

Will the folks in the UH system ship more money to Hilo if the Vulcans go Division I?

Maybe this new direction looks good in Manoa.

Right or wrong, reasonably or no, it's already lost the people who love Vulcan sports most.

Kalani Simpson can be reached at

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