2003: A look ahead

2003 will be about
paying for thrills

Hawaii should produce its
share of winners this year

By Dave Reardon

Even in Hawaii, with its dearth of professional sports, many of the biggest stories about the games people play are money-related. That should hold true in 2003 as college and high school programs try to improve their products amid a continually shaky economy, facilities questions coming to a head, and securing sponsorship remaining a challenge.

Local sports achievers like Tim Chang, Carl English, Andy Irons, June Jones, Lily Kahumoku, Derek Low, Vince Manuwai, Costas Theocharidis, Riley Wallace, Michelle Wie, Kim Willoughby and Mike Wilton will be the newsmakers. But the money stories will continue to push their way to the front page for the simple reason that you can't put on the show without the dough.

UH athletic director Herman Frazier has submitted his proposed 2002-2003 budget to upper campus, and should learn within the coming weeks if his request for around $18 million -- $2 million more than Hugh Yoshida's final budget last year -- is approved. It would be difficult for university president Evan Dobelle to say no, since Dobelle has publicly acknowledged that the lofty goals he has set for the department will cost more money.

A large chunk of that budget increase will likely go toward keeping Jones, the football coach/program savior, with the Warriors for as long as possible. Jones, a former Hawaii quarterback and assistant coach, doesn't want to leave his adopted home. But if negotiations come to a standstill, the longtime NFL coach would not have a hard time getting a well-paying job somewhere.

Funding for pay increases for Wallace and Wilton has to be secured, too. The successful men's basketball and volleyball coaches negotiated hard for deserved salary bumps that must be accounted for now.

The irony in the case of Wilton -- who will defend the school's first national championship in a men's sport this spring -- is that men's volleyball isn't even acknowledged in some respects. UH must add another men's sport next year to meet new NCAA standards for number of sports offered (Frazier said it will probably be cross country).

"Maintaining our balance of excellent competition and being able to sponsor all the sports we have, while adding a sport for the men, will be a challenge," Frazier said. "And men's volleyball doesn't count."

It does here, though -- in popularity and economically. It is one of four UH sports that stands on its own financially (the others are football, women's volleyball and men's basketball). Hawaii desperately needs baseball to rejoin that group. Second-year coach Mike Trapasso will be expected to make major improvements on the field and at the gate now that his honeymoon season is over.

Although the basketball team ended 2002 with one of the program's most exciting victories Monday against Butler, Wallace's crew needs to get past the wallflower stage at The Dance -- assuming it gets to the NCAA Tournament a third consecutive time this March. This is not just for the reputation of the team, but for the financial health of the athletic department. NCAA basketball tournament TV money is one of the best sources of athletic department income, and the more you win, the more you (along with your conference colleagues) get.

And what of the local holiday basketball tournaments, the Rainbow Classic, the Maui Invitational? Sponsorship and NCAA rules have hurt the tournaments that annually attracted big-name entrants. Hawaii Pacific and Brigham Young-Hawaii hope to revive tournaments that they canceled last year, but all are waiting to see what happens in the courts to an appeal of the NCAA's 2-in-4 rule (teams may play in exempt tournaments twice in four years) that negatively impacts the tournaments.

"It's unfortunate," BYUH coach Ken Wagner said. "This year's team is the biggest we've had and we really think it would have been our best chance to win."

Also on the Division II front, Hawaii-Hilo faces major challenges, especially in the fund-raising arena. And the Vulcans need to replace legendary volleyball coach Sharon Peterson, who retired. BYUH will defend a national volleyball championship. The Pacific West Conference needs to add a women's sport, and it will probably be bowling.

UH WOMEN'S VOLLEYBALL will continue to make money. But this year's team, led by Kahumoku and Willoughby, two of the best to ever play for the program, and five other seniors, will be expected to win it all. While many of the program's faithful continue to say they are grateful for a team that makes it to the final four, coach Dave Shoji set a higher bar decades ago with four national championships. For some, nothing less will do. A tougher early season schedule, including national champion USC, Minnesota, Pacific and Arizona, could help the Wahine be more prepared come championship time.

The football schedule is also ramped up, with six road games including back-to-back early season games at USC and UNLV. The enigmatic Chang (tough guy at Fresno State, not so against Tulane) will be the quarterback, barring injury. He gets a chance to show the nation if he is deserving of the hype and acclaim Jones and the run-and-shoot offense have helped provide for him.

If UH makes it to the Hawaii Bowl again, a bigger-name opponent than Tulane is needed for the gate -- regardless the fact that the Green Wave pounded the Warriors.

Presumably, next year's football season will be played on Fieldturf rather than AstroTurf. If it isn't, the state stands to lose millions of dollars as the NFL will likely move the Pro Bowl to another city.

The spongy, grass-like surface is preferred by players, and coaches say it causes fewer injuries.

But in the case of Aloha Stadium, this could be equivalent to putting down a new carpet in a house that is rotting at its foundation.

Dobelle and Jones want UH to have more control of the stadium, and renovation of the 25-year-old facility is one of the university president's favorite topics. First, he and the coach would settle for not having to pay $800,000 rent at the state facility.

IT COMES BACK to money even with high school sports. An estimated $30 million a season is spent on the school-sanctioned athletic participation of 30,000 Hawaii high school athletes each year.

"It's pretty staggering," Hawaii High School Athletic Association Executive Director Keith Amemiya said. "There are coaches salaries, equipment and travel. We have to ask ourselves every year, 'What effect will the economy have?' Athletic directors have had to become fund-raisers to make sure that all of their existing athletic activities are covered.

"More and more public schools are being added, but funds are not necessarily increased, and sometimes they're decreased. Similarly, the lean economy affects many of the smaller private schools, which are struggling to maintain their enrollment. When people think ILH (Interscholastic League of Honolulu), they think Punahou, Kamehameha, Iolani. But there are 21 other schools that make up the ILH, small schools struggling to survive. Athletic funding is a huge issue."

As football season nears, pundits will ask again why there is no classification and why there is no junior varsity in the ILH.

The mastery of Iolani basketball player Derek Low will be one of the biggest Hawaii high school sports stories of the coming year -- as will the courting by colleges of one of the two or three best players to ever come out of the islands.

But will Low and his Raider teammates -- considered a finesse team -- be able to hold off rugged Saint Louis? There are those who believe the Crusaders match up well enough with Iolani to unseat the defending state champions. If that happened, would Saint Louis athletic director Cal Lee force football and basketball coach Delbert Tengan to take over baseball, too?

While that is wild speculation, Low is the real deal. He has attracted serious attention from Kansas and Maryland ... and every other university that thinks it has a chance.

IT WILL BE a while before Punahou's Michelle Wie has to think about college; she is 13. But she is already one of the best golfers in Hawaii, of any age or either gender. She played in her first LPGA event last year and her progress on the links will continue to be watched by the entire state. She's the quiet leader of a seemingly endless line of young golfers who border on dominating local events.

That's what Lee did as the Crusaders' football coach for more than a decade. Now he takes over the Hawaiian Islanders arenafootball2 team after tiring of waiting for an opening on the UH staff. Arena veteran and run-and-shoot guru Mouse Davis had come to a tentative agreement to coordinate Lee's offense.

Hawaii's only professional sports team is in a minor league of a spin-off sport. Although Lee will probably improve the Islanders product and draw good crowds, production of a "world champion" is a semantic impossibility.

But the state does have an athlete who will attempt to defend that title in 2003. He is Irons, the surfer from Hanalei, Kauai. His brother, Bruce, will be among those trying to wrest away his ASP crown.

Star-Bulletin reporters Jerry Campany
and Grace Wen contributed to this report.

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