Among the commonly understood facts of life we all grow to understand at one point or another is the simple truth that things are not always as they seem.
Like that used car that wasn’t the great deal six months after you bought it that it seemed to be when you paid for it, the world is full of below-the-surface complexity.
In this corner of the morning newspaper, the seeming cause for concern is the spate of blowout scores in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation, the two-division, 11-team league that includes all the high schools here, big and small.
Until Saturday, the concern was centered on the first two weeks of 10 games that were decided by an average of over 40 points a game.
And then came the Hilo-Waiakea game Saturday morning, postponed after an electrical issue prevented the teams from playing Thursday night as scheduled. The final score, 104-0 — the rare triple burger — was a shocker, matching the most lopsided high school result in Hawaii history 96 years earlier, but it wasn’t completely out of line with most games in the early season.
This is the BIIF season of the Great Anomaly. The Hilo game was punctuated by 11 turnovers, five that led directly to touchdowns. At the top of the BIIF, nobody is competing on even terms with Hilo, which recalls the thought suggested earlier in the year of a tiered schedule in which the top teams would play mostly each other, the middle tier and lower tier also playing, essentially, against themselves.
That might have created an extra win here or there, but it wouldn’t have helped any teams grow in bigger and better versions of themselves. The scores have been ugly, verging on the chaotic side of what you might consider evenly matched high school competition.
The refashioned BIIF is a work-in-progress. It may look like athletic directors made a big mistake with the decision to have the three 8-man teams (Kau, Pahoa and Kohala), move up to the 11-man game, but all of this was predictable and is best seen as a rugged but necessary transition.
Moreover, the foreboding dark clouds hanging over so many of these early season games actually have a silver lining. It’s probably not nearly as bad as it looks.
The ADs, and everyone else who had a hand in this decision, should be taken off the hook if there are attempts to blame someone for creating what looks like an unrefined mess.
Waiting a year, or two years, or any amount of time, would not have mitigated any of the difficult passages for the three former 8-man teams.
Each of those schools is involved in a rough transition that makes too many of these games look like junior varsity teams squaring off and being beaten up, by varsity teams.
“That’s pretty much what it seems like,” said Kohala coach Chad Atkins. “What you are really doing is starting all over and teaching the (11-man) game to kids who basically haven’t played it yet. We are throwing freshmen into it just to field a team and there’s no other way to do it.”
Atkins had 18 players toward the end of the season last year, and in 8-man football, with such limited rosters, a lot of players see action on both sides of the ball.
That means there are a handful of returning players who knew a little about a few positions, but in the 11-man game, those players on what would have been JV teams were thrust onto the varsity roster, where Atkins now has 35 players. That’s plenty to play the 11-man game, but that’s also an overload of inexperience.
Atkins figuratively tossed out his old playbook and started over, designing passing plays, seeking out receivers, tight ends who can catch passes and he might have looked at which running backs might be capable receivers.
“In 8-man, it’s just a running game,” Atkins said, “if you went and looked at (all three former 8-man teams’), our offenses, they were all very run heavy, you basically didn’t throw the ball, you didn’t have the personnel for it.
“Now, you have to throw the ball or the other team will play a 10-man front and eliminate the run. But for most our kids who played 8-man, it’s a big transition.”
And that, despite the scores, can be a good thing for young people in high school for the ostensible purpose of learning about life, the good and the bad and how to make sense of it all.
“At some point, it all gets back to the expectations we have,” said Dan Lyons, the former Kamehameha School head coach who has decided to take a step back and work more as an advisor to the program.
He seems to fully be enjoying his new role of support to the program, cheerfully bragging, “I and a great ‘get-back coach,’ I can tell you that,” of the assistant assigned the duty to keep the head coach from wandering too far onto the field and drawing a penalty flag.
Lyons was on Oahu last Friday where the JV team was preparing to play Kailua when he returned a phone call.
“If it’s just about the score, about whether you won or lost, and not about the larger view of the competitive discrepancy, then yeah, it’ll be pretty rough for those (former 8-man), teams,” he said. “But if it’s about understanding the beauty of the game, the life lessons that can be learned and the awareness that you tend to learn more from your failures than your successes, in those cases, it can be very beneficial.
“We tend to review and study what we did a little more after a loss, we tend to dig in, re-evaluate and maybe make a change here or there when we think we’re prepared and then we meet with failure, or whatever we want to call the opposite of success.
“Those are learning and growth opportunities.”
If it sounds like coaching mumbo jumbo, guess again. Increasingly, as our world shrinks, as information flows into laptops and other social media devices, a tremendous amount of intelligence — good, bad and otherwise — is available every minute to our young people.
What’s shrinking away on a daily basis is the personal experiences of actually doing things in the real world. People are spending time with virtual reality, while escaping from actual reality. You hear the stories every day of kids spending hours and hours on a couch immersed in social media, and when they’re told to go outside, they take their devices and sit on the lawn and do the same thing.
Here’s a chance for hands on learning in the real world.
“There’s a lot to learn here,” Lyons said, “that’s the beauty of it, to me. I see life lessons more available than ever through this transition.
“Things change in the real world. What if you lose your job tomorrow? How are you prepared, how have you prepared yourself? We have these kids now learning how to manage their emotions, consider and understand new concepts and we should honor those efforts, that desire to learn and get better.”
There’s no questions that the three former 8-man teams will have a rough ride this year, and probably another year after that, and there’s a lot of work to be done at Waiakea before it meets Hilo again, but the focus should shift away from the perceived incompetence of the league for just a minute.
Long enough to remind us these are high school kids trying to cope and get better in a rough game they are only know trying to understand and learn what it has to teach them.
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