Ferd Lewis: Past athletes help public schools have a season

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Mar. 31—In coming weeks, COVID-19 counts permitting, sports competition will resume at public high schools on Oahu and Hawaii island after more than a year's break, underwritten by a remarkable ground swell of community support.

In a hurry-up campaign less than a month in the making, some notable athletes of the past and present, including Shane Victorino, Marcus Mariota and the late Wally Yonamine, along with Central Pacific Bank, have stepped up to help make spring sports a reality.

So much so that the fundraising goal of $250, 000 has nearly been reached to help bring back competition in at least seven sports—baseball, softball, track and field, tennis, golf, volleyball and water polo—for a mid-April through mid-May abbreviated season, officials said.

(Kauai hasn't authorized spring sports and Maui hasn't opened up its sports to practice yet ).

It wasn't just paying for the coaches' salaries and equipment that had officials concerned, it was the attendant costs of cleaning, personal protective equipment, security, transportation and game officials that also threatened to keep spring sports shut down for a second consecutive year.

After a full year without major revenue-generating sports such as football and basketball, school athletic budgets were depleted and the state's resources were limited. Nor would there be an opportunity to charge admission for the spring since fan attendance isn't allowed.

"Public school (athletics ) have never been fully funded and we've always had to rely on fundraising to help make ends meet, " said Radford High athletic director Kelly Sur. "We understand that. During these lean times, especially now, we didn't know how we were going to do it. There was an uncertainty level."

So, Oahu Interscholastic Association officials reached out to the one Sur has come to call "Our go-to guy, Keith Amemiya."

Amemiya, a former executive director of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association (1989-2009 ), businessman and finalist for Honolulu mayor last year, spearheaded the 2009 "Save Our Sports " drive that, with the help of Hawaii-bred pro athletes, raised more than $1.2 million to help keep high school sports afloat during the recession.

Amemiya also led a community effort to raise $2 million that, when matched with state and NFL support, resulted in the installation of a $4.5 million synthetic track and football field at Roosevelt High in 2005.

"This is something Keith has done in the past and we certainly welcomed his support again, " said Mililani High Principal Fred Murphy.

Amemiya said the foundations of Victorino, Mariota and Yonamine joined CPB with pledges to be prime donors in the project.

Yonamine was a Farrington graduate who played pro football for the San Francisco 49ers and baseball for the Yomiuri Giants in Japan. His foundation has sponsored the HHSAA baseball tournament for nearly 20 years.

"This is the kind of thing my dad would have wanted to support, " said CPB executive chairman Paul Yonamine. "If someone were to tell him he wouldn't be able to finish sports his senior year I don't think he would have wanted that either. So this seemed like a worthy cause."

Despite the depth of the challenges and passage of the years, many of those who have made their mark in sports find a way to give back when sports are threatened.------Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis @staradvertiser.com or 529-4820.------