Keith Amemiya '83Helping from the Sidelines
When Keith Amemiya '83 accepted the executive director position in 1998 at Hawaii High School Athletic Association, the organization founded in 1956 to oversee high school sports was undergoing major transformation. After years as a division of the Hawai'i Department of Education, HHSAA became an independent agency - and Amemiya was chosen as its new leader.
Amemiya, who had run cross country and track at Punahou, felt fortunate to combine a challenging professional role with his love of sports. Ultimately, he would change the landscape of athletic fundraising for Hawai'i's public schools during his nearly12-year tenure.
The former lawyer set out to "increase participation in high school athletics, make the HHSAA a more financially viable organization and ensure that student-athletes have a positive experience through athletics," said the UH-Manoa grad about his initial objectives.
Tackling everything from fundraising to media to event promotion, Amemiya has had a successful track record. Over the years, he has created Hawai'i's first football state tournament, formed Division II (smaller school) state tournaments for all team sports, and assisted in acquiring more than $4.5 million to upgrade the football/soccer field, track and stadium at Roosevelt High School.
While Amemiya oversees 95 public and independent high schools, more than 33,000 student-athletes, 18 sports and 42 annual state championships - the most in the country - HHSAA's success is a result of a collaborative effort. "Everyone is doing their part to help our high schools. Sports are a big part of the high school tradition [here in Hawai'i]. ... People naturally are inclined to support the high school they went to or the high school in their community," he said.
Perhaps what Amemiya might be most celebrated for - especially as he steps down as executive director at the end of the academic year - is HHSAA's Save Our Sports campaign. The fundraising program, launched in July 2009, was established in response to a statewide public school budget crisis.
"The cuts to our public schools' athletic budget amount to several million dollars," Amemiya said in late 2009, "but our goal for SOS was $1.2 million because that was the amount of funds needed for basic necessities." With generous donations from individuals and companies, within four months of its inception, SOS exceeded that goal. "We've been extremely lucky. ... The extra money will be used for the 2010 - 2011 school year because we anticipate another shortfall in the state funds for public schools," he said.
Reminiscing about his own school days, Amemiya admitted, "It was certainly one of the best experiences of my life. ... I don't know if I fully realized it at the time, but Punahou not only
provided a great education, it also provided life skills and the mindset that you can achieve almost anything if you work hard and persevere."
Amemiya is grateful that his son, Christopher '18, who plays football, baseball and basketball, will have that same experience. "My wife, Bonny, and I have many strong Punahou ties, but what has made me truly appreciate Punahou and all that it can do for a child is my experience as a Punahou parent."
For now, Amemiya feels satisfied with what he's achieved. "There's always more you feel you could've done, but by-and-large, I think we've accomplished most of the goals we've set when I first started at HHSAA."
By Melissa A. Torres-Laing