The favorites — Punahou’s boys and girls, Seabury Hall’s mixed crew — claimed gold at the HHSAA canoe paddling championships on Saturday at windy Hilo Bay, where the best suspense was fit for a debate team.
In a half-mile display of dominance, the Buffanblu boys finished in 3:45.10 while the girls clocked in at 4:16.64 while the Spartans secured the mixed title in 3:57.76.
In the mixed semifinals, Parker, the BIIF’s No. 3 team, and Kalaheo of the OIA tied in a dead heat for the eighth and last lane in the finals. It was too close to call by a human eye or magnifying glass, which wasn’t available, from the photo finish or TV screen.
The HHSAA tiebreaker procedure goes to the team with the fastest time in the preceding round. Still, after that race, the debate droned on for over an hour through the girls and boys championships, and all the up to the mixed final.
Right before the mixed final, the HHSAA, the governing body of the state tournaments, awarded the last lane to Kalaheo based on its preliminary time of 4:17.03, good for fourth. In that same heat, Parker finished in 4:19.17 for fifth.
In each prelim or heat, the top two finishers advance to the finals. The finishers from No. 3 to 6 are categorized by time in the semifinals, so one semi is not loaded over another.
Some schools don’t stack their best paddlers in the prelims, saving them for the semifinals and finals, in case their crew has to paddle in three races for a single event. Some teams prefer to have different people paddle, rather than only their best six. Parker is one of those schools.
To those Parker Bulls fans who thought they got shafted and wondered why an extra lane couldn’t simply be added, the answer is simple. There’s no procedure in the rulebook for that, even though Hilo Bay could easily accommodate at least four more crews for a 12-team field.
All that would be needed are a few more binoculars for the spotters. Or the final spot could come down to an arm-wrestling contest. However, that might be unfair because Parker coach Derek Park, who paddles for Puna during the Moku O Hawaii season, would probably win in less than a second.
“We ran different crews and put it all out there,” he said. “They made the fairest decision and took everything to heart with fairness.
“It’s OK. In my heart, we made the finals.”
Park and the Bulls can probably relate to the University of Central Florida. The Knights didn’t get invited to the College Football Playoffs. But in their minds, they won the national championship anyway.
Still, the Bulls have come a long way, especially with their background. The small private school in Waimea is not a BIIF canoe paddling power. Keaau holds that distinction.
Only Park’s son, junior Greg Kim, paddles during the Moku O Hawaii summer season. The rest of the Bulls paddle only during the BIIF season and are involved in school programs like the debate team.
Then Park pointed to senior Shione Mochizuki, who’s a debate team member and joined paddling as a sophomore. She didn’t paddle in the prelims or semifinal.
“She was going to be in the final but not anymore,” Park said. “Every single one of them is about the team. There are no egos. You can plug in any kid, and they’re all about the team. It’s an honor to coach them.”
Mochizuki had a balanced perspective.
“I’m a little bummed,” she said. “But I’m super happy. The team did so well this season. It’s big for Parker to be a part of states.”
Asked the key to winning a debate, Mochizuki had a practical answer.
“Confidence,” she said. “If you act confident, you may not have a strong argument, but if you talk with confidence you can win it.”
From paddling, Mochizuki noted that she learned about perseverance, and she wasn’t necessarily referring to waiting on pins and needles for an answer from the HHSAA committee either.
“The coaches pushed us at practice to go harder and harder every single time,” said Mochizuki, who applied to East coast colleges and wants to enter the health sector. “You learn a lot of perseverance.”
Mathias Migliorini-Marchesi, the only other Bull senior, summed up the feeling of most of his teammates.
“It’s definitely a thrilling experience,” he said. “But it sucks to work so hard and a few seconds will determine if we’re in the final.”
Well, maybe he can work on his arm-wrestling.
The Hawaii Prep boys got tagged with a disqualification and were the only BIIF crew in the final.
The Keaau girls placed seventh in 4:39.14. And the Cougars mixed crew, the league’s strongest entrant, took third in 4:06.50.
Keaau coach Grant Kaaua also paddles during the Moku O Hawaii season, so he knows the scoops about the top youngsters during the summer.
When those paddlers stick together throughout the summer and HHSAA season, they’re tough to beat.
“The Punahou boys were 11th place in the Molokai Challenge,” Kaaua said. “That’s incredible. They could beat most men’s crews. They’re top-level paddlers.
“If kids want to compete at a high level at states, it takes more than the high school season. They have to paddle during the summer to get to that caliber.”