Deaf Ballplayer on Kauai Fights for Right to Play

Pono Tokioka
Pono Tokioka
Jimmy Tokioka
Jimmy Tokioka

by Diane Ako

LIHUE, Kaua'i (KHNL)- He just wanted to play baseball, but now a deaf Kauai boy finds himself in the middle of a major debate on disabled peoples' rights. Last year, Pono Tokioka's sign language interpreter was banned from the dugout. Now the federal government is looking into whether Pono's rights were violated.

The trouble for 11 year old Pono Tokioka started last summer. The little league baseball player was good enough to make it to these All Star playoffs last July in Hilo. But once there, PONY league officials wouldn't let his interpreter, who is also his dad, sign for him in the dugout.

After getting nowhere with the PONY national board, the Tokiokas and the National Association of the Deaf filed a case with the U.S. Department of Justice last fall against PONY Baseball/Softball. Father Jimmy Tokioka says, "The Department of Justice came out and they really worked hard."

Tokioka says he talked to Justice Department investigators at the end of April. They flew out from Washington DC to ask him questions about, "inches and feet of how far I was from Pono. How the dugout, whether it obstructed my ability to communicate with Pono."

PONY stands for "Protecting Our Nation's Youth." Tokioka accuses it of just the opposite. "The state pony board has been sympathetic. They've moved from their position, but we still have the national board."

Neither the national board nor the state director returned our calls today. Tokioka wonders what happen to his son this July, should the boy once again make the All Star Tournament.

"This year will be his first year in Bronco. If he does make the team we'll see what happens."

Tokioka says he's sure the state board will "do the right thing." Meanwhile, Pono's learning a lesson in activism. "He feels like he's doing something for other kids. It's a good feeling for him."

The Honolulu city council approved a resolution urging the city to establish a policy that requires sports organizations and leagues that use city parks to adopt rules making sure disabled participants have reasonable accommodations. A similar resolution has also been approved by county councils on Maui and Kauai.