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High school recruiting here to stay in Hawaii

How do you define recruiting in high school sports? How do you enforce against it?

When public-school Oahu Interscholastic Association officials balk at the proposed football “alliance” with the private-school Interscholastic League of Honolulu, they don’t use the word recruiting very much anymore.

That’s because they know it can be thrown back into their faces, even though new rules regarding transfers make it harder for Little Johnny or Johnette to move around to different schools just because of sports.

I first became aware of recruiting by public schools in Hawaii more 30 years ago. Back then, as it does now, it went by a different name: district exemption.

For some reason, in 1985 the rosters given to us reporters at the state baseball championships indicated “DE” next to the names of the players who had been granted permission to attend a public high school different than the one assigned to their place of residence.

“Wow, that’s a lot,” I said to someone from Roosevelt, after counting about a dozen DEs on the roster of the Rough Riders, who had made it to the state final for the first and only time in school history.

His response: “Why do you think we’re so good?”

I’d also been more than vaguely aware of Waianae’s border extending east into Nanakuli’s territory when it came to football, and I’d heard talk of Kaiser athletes being from parts of Waimanalo, which may or may not have been Kailua’s turf.

In more recent years, the Kaiser football coach openly acknowledged how important a game against neighboring Kalani would be for “recruiting purposes.”

It’s been this way forever: Talented players in many different sports find ways to gravitate to schools that have the best winning tradition and the best coaching … whether those schools be public or private.

And whether they are “recruited” or not.

Sometimes they even come (and go) from overseas.

This past season a basketball player flew in from New Zealand and arrived just in time for the preseason ‘Iolani Classic. He returned to his homeland two months later, right after helping Kahuku to the state championship.

From what Star-Advertiser sportswriter Nick Abramo was told, this was all done legally. And since there was never a formal complaint made to the Hawaii High School Athletic Association or the OIA, neither entity looked into it.

Whether it was technically by the book or not, we can surely question the ethics of the adults involved when a youngster from another country comes here for a few weeks and plays on the basketball team of a high school (especially that of a public school, funded by state taxpayers), only to leave at the end of the season. And his coach said he might do it again next year.

That’s how over-the-top the concept of building super teams has become — especially when you consider high school sports are supposed to be an extracurricular activity.

Those who support the OIA’s stance of blocking an alliance with the ILH often cite a playing field tilted by the private schools’ ability to provide tuition waivers.

Of course, it is impossible to match that benefit since there is no tuition required to attend public school. And ILH schools often mask their recruiting under the guise of giving a kid from an under-served situation an opportunity; it just so happens that the recipient is 6 feet 4, 200 pounds and runs the 40 in 4.5.

I’m sure it has happened, but I’ve never heard about a tuition waiver at one of Oahu’s elite private schools for an academic prodigy.

You can’t blame parents for taking advantage of the best educational opportunities available to their children. But we can decry a system and culture where “exposure” for student-athletes has been put at such a ridiculously high priority where “scouts” representing private schools scope out talent at the coach-pitch baseball and flag football games of 6-year-olds.

With all that being said, the best OIA football teams usually can and do match up to the best the ILH puts on the field. OIA teams have won two of the past three and four of the past six highest-level state championships.

And it’s not just Kahuku; Mililani and Leilehua have also won the title within the past 10 years.

Recruiting — by whatever name you want to call it — is a reality in high school sports.

That goes for public and private schools.


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