HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Kahuku High football team's quest to be included in the upcoming state tournament is over. After hours of testimony, an Oahu judge rejected the Red Raiders' argument that their punishment for using an ineligible player was too severe.
With the start of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association tournament just three days away, Kahuku players and parents, athletics officials and others jammed into Circuit Judge Karl Sakamoto's courtroom for the expedited hearing. Oahu Interscholastic Association officials testified that a ruling against them would undermine everything the league stands for.
When Kahuku's principal reported to the OIA last Thursday that her football team had used an ineligible player, the league says it held not one, but two meetings -- the first with its six-member rules committee on Thursday and a second with 21 of its 23 member schools on Friday -- to discuss the violation and the proposed disqualification of the Red Raiders from further post-season play, including participation in the state tournament.
"We all want our best people to represent us in the league," Dwight Toyama, OIA executive director, testified. "We're proud of Kahuku and we're proud of all of our member schools, so we wanted to make sure that she had a, we went a step further."
With just three schools opposed -- Castle, Anuenue and Kahuku -- the league decided that the Red Raiders should forfeit the matchups in which the fifth-year high school student was used, including a key playoff game against Radford.
The plaintiffs argued that it was a clerical mistake, not a ploy to gain an unfair advantage on the field.
"What I did find is that he should have been retained in the seventh grade also," Donna Lindsey, Kahuku High principal, testified about the ineligible player. "He was missing a credit in the seventh grade, so he was erroneously promoted from the seventh grade to the eighth grade, erroneously promoted from the eighth grade to the ninth grade."
The rest of the squad says the forfeitures caused irreparable harm.
"In the playoffs, it's a crucial time where scouts will come out and watch our games," Evan Moe, Kahuku High football player, testified. "For us seniors and myself on the team, it would determine whether we got a (Divison One) or (Division Two) scholarship."
The plaintiffs argued that the language in the OIA By-Laws gave the league discretion when fashioning a punishment.
"The Association, upon having knowledge of an infraction of a rule, the Constitution, or By-Laws, may initiate the following (forfeiture) actions," Section 4 reads in part.
But Circuit Judge Karl Sakamoto ruled that once actions were initiated, the OIA did not have discretion on the penalty.
"The penalty shall be forfeiture of the game or contest by the team that used an ineligible player," Section 4, a., (1) reads in part.
"It is our position that Kahuku has done great service in by helping to clarify this rule because now, from here on out, OIA is on notice that when they do have these kinds of eligibility issues, they do have discretion," Della Belatti, plaintiffs' attorney, said.
The OIA says Kahuku still has not provided the actual number of games in which the ineligible player participated. But by forfeiting the Radford game, the Red Raiders were already knocked out of the league playoffs.