Innocence lost: High school sports on TV

Before long, high school football will again rule Fridays on Kaua’i. And anyone dreaming of a state championship this season can also fantasize about some TV time.

We interrupt the dream for this message: Is it right for high school athletics—one of the last bastions of amateur, play-for-fun-not-money sports—to be part of commercial television? Hawai’i High School Athletic Association thinks it is.

HHSAA has inked a $600,000, three-year deal giving exclusive television and Internet broadcast rights to Hawai’i Sports Network. Beginning with the 2000-01 school year, the network will broadcast state prep championships on channel 5, the UPN affiliate in Honolulu. The games will also be webcast via HawaiiSportsNetwork.com.

For the right to beam into homes the drama of student-athletes vieing for titles in football, baseball, cheerleading (yes, this year for the first time, you can be a champion cheerer) and boys’ and girls’ bowling, basketball, volleyball, soccer, wrestling and swimming, Hawai’i Sports Network will pay at least $100,000 in cash to HHSAA. Also part of the agreement is another $500,000 worth of marketing, Internet and production services from Hawai’i Sports.

“This agreement provides unprecedented state tournament coverage, financial compensation and marketing value to the HHSAA,” said Keith Arnemiya, the organization’s executive director.

Well, not entirely unprecedented. The showdowns in volleyball, bowling, soccer and swimming will be broadcast for the first time. But the championships of other sports have been televised before.

HHSAA knows some people are a little squeamish about making TV jocks out of student-athletes who are barely old enough to drive. But there’s another way to look at the tube topic, says Thomas Yoshida.

“We have an obligation to show that Hawai’i kids can compete at the collegiate level,” said Yoshida, HHSAA’s information director. “TV is a way for our kids to get the attention of college recruiters. You know that parents are going to record the broadcasts and send out videotapes.” Another point, he said, is that fans living on Kaua’i and other islands deserve to see championship games played in Honolulu, and vice versa. (The tennis titles will be decided on Kaua’i this year.) The money that HHSAA will make from the TV package will help pay for staging the championship events. Through advertising, channel 5 presumably will make a buck or two, as should Hawai’i Sports Network, which has a distribution deal with the station.

“We’ve always wanted a larger presence in Hawai’i high school sports,” said channel 5’s vice president, John Fink. Now they’ve got it. But is there a cost that doesn’t show up in the contract? Is this a move toward the TV-induced sophistication and professionalism that turned major-college sports into a money-making juggernaut for national networks?

Note that prep athletics in Hawai’i isn’t new to commercialization. The football championship has been televised in pay-per-view in past years. And corporate sponsors are involved, with their money going into the tournament fund.

Still, young people today grow up fast enough, pulled along by mass media and its imagery. The kids who play them and root for their teams to win should first and foremost enjoy high school sports for the pure competition and bonding that once was the foundation of college sports, but now is almost passe.

High school was never intended to be the big time, just the fun time.

TGI editor Pat Jenkins can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 227) or pjenkins@pulitzer.net

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