A Decade Of Football ‘States’

Bob Hogue
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Wednesday - November 18, 2009
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It may seem hard to believe, but the state high school football tournament is 10 years old this year.

Started in 1999 when Cal Lee’s powerful Saint Louis Crusaders blanked Kahuku 19-0, it was a dream for many local football fans, but it took a former attorney who never played high school football to get it done.

Keith Amemiya, who announced his retirement last week, was the brand new executive director of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association when he helped oversee the deal between all the public and private school associations in the Islands.

Before then, there was a Prep Bowl on Oahu and separate championships for Neighbor Islands.

“Wow, time sure flies,” Amemiya says when I remind him of the anniversary. “I’ll admit I wasn’t looking ahead 10 years when we got started - I just wanted to make sure we got through that first year. We’ve had many memorable moments in that 10-year span.”

During the last decade, the HHSSA football championships have grown tremendously and now encompass two divisions with champions from every league participating: ILH, OIA, BIIF, MIL, KIF.

“The biggest thing perhaps is the increased quality of competition across the state overall (and) the ability to provide tremendous exposure to Neighbor Island players. It allows all of us to see all five leagues compete,” Amemiya says.

And the best news for local football fans is that one league has not dominated - unlike the Prep Bowl of the late 1980s and into the entire decade of 1990s when Saint Louis seemed to have that championship cup permanently housed in its trophy case. During that span, the Crusaders won 14 straight Prep Bowls and the ILH led the overall series 19-6 with one tie.

Since that first game in 1999, Saint Louis has won only one other HHSAA Division I title. Kahuku has been the kingpin, winning five titles in the 10-year span. The others belong to Kamehameha, Leilehua and last year’s champion Punahou (one each). Thus, the OIA leads the ILH in the overall record books, 6-4. (No Neighbor Island team has reached the championship finals in Division I, but several teams have been very competitive.)

“The two (championship) games that really stand out to me are the first two,” Amemiya says. “Timmy Chang and Saint Louis had that great nationally ranked team to win the first title (in 1999), then Kahuku knocking off Saint Louis to win it the next year was huge. Then they proved it was no fluke by winning it again the next season after that.”

Interestingly, Iolani has the most ILH state football titles, as the Raiders have won three of the last four championships in Division II, including last year’s 35-20 win over Radford.

The other DII titles have been earned by Aiea, Campbell and King Kekaulike of the MIF (the only winner in either division from a Neighbor Isle.)

The 2009 First Hawaiian Bank HHSAA Football Championships begin this Friday night with quarterfinal action on Maui, Oahu and the Big Island.

The Division I combatants are on the Neighbor Islands, with Leilehua facing Baldwin at War Memorial Stadium and Farrington taking on Honokaa at Kealakehe High School.

The DII games are on Oahu, with Lahainaluna at Aiea and Hawaii Prep at Moanalua. All games start at 7 p.m.

The winners of those contests face the top seeds in the Nov. 27 semifinals. Aloha Stadium will be the site of Division I action with top-seeded and undefeated Kahuku and second-seeded Kamehameha waiting to see who their opponents will be.

In DII, top-seeded Iolani will play at Radford and second-seeded Kauai will be at the Garden Isle’s Vidinha Stadium awaiting the winners of the week No. 1.

All that sets the stage for the championship night of Friday, Dec. 4, at Aloha Stadium when the DII title will be settled in a 4:30 p.m. start and the DI championship beginning at 7:30.

“We’ve had so many great players,” says Amemiya, and ticks off the names: “Jordan Dizon, Kaluka Maiava, Timmy Chang, Inoke Funaki, Chris Kemoeatu, Manti Te’o. Many have gone on to major college football and even the NFL.”

You can see which great, young players stand out in this year’s championships. Join Keith Amemiya and thousands of local football fans for the 10th anniversary season of what has become one of Hawaii’s proudest sports traditions.

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