All Pono Tokioka and his parents want is a chance and after a ruling earlier this week, the chance was silenced.
“I feel sad. The coaches talk a lot (to me) and I need an interpreter. (The) coach talks (to me about) important things that I need to know about and what to do,” Pono said.
You see, the 10-year-old, who was born deaf, seeks to have a change in the PONY baseball rule book, which doesn’t clearly state anything about interpreters at games.
“We’re shocked and appalled. We cannot believe the reasoning. We’ll try to communicate to them (PONY national officials) to reconsider, but if they’re not going to budge, we’ll be forced to take legal action,” Pono’s father Jimmy Tokioka said.
After submitting a proposal change that would discount any doubt or confusion about Pono being allowed to have an interpreter in the dugout at the games, even if the person is a coach or not, the PONY rules committee decided to not allow the rule change and on top of that, the board of directors voted to accept the committee’s action.
“We’re pretty stunned. Initially we were angry. We basically got slapped down and we’re very disappointed,” his mother Beth Tokioka said.
Coach Regan Honda of ‘Aiea, the mustang regional champions, wasn’t even aware that there was any harm done, while playing the Lihu’e all-stars in the first game.
“I can’t speak for the other teams, but for us, it wasn’t a problem at all. It was brought up before the game and I didn’t think it was a big deal. Pono should be allowed an interpreter,” Honda said.
The Lihu’e mustang all-star team made its first-ever appearance at the regional tournament and topped it off with an impressive third-place trophy.
The Wilcox School fifth-grader has been playing PONY baseball for five years and according to his parents, the organization has been forthcoming to every situation, except this one.
“We’re trying to deal with it now because we don’t want any other child to be in the same situation. If Pono is lucky enough (to make the all-star team), it would be a tragedy for us to deal with in the future,” Beth said. From the start, both Beth and Jimmy knew that there were going to be circumstances like this, but not the way things turned out in the PONY ranks.
“For a national organization to deny him the right to an interpreter is absolutely ridiculous,” Jimmy said.
The Tokioka’s next step will be to head up to O’ahu next month for a Hawai’i regional meeting.
“They’re going to review the matter and if anything, I hope they will make a strong recommendation to the national office to make the rules change,” Beth said. And if nothing happens after that, the family will be forced to take legal action, which is the last thing they want to do. “We’re not trying to take money away from the organization, which is funded by the different regions and leagues. That would defeat the purpose of what we’re trying to accomplish, but something has to be done to get them to wake up,” Jimmy said.
In July at the regional tournament in Hilo, Tokioka, who has been at every practice and game to interpret for his son, was denounced the opportunity to interpret and forced out of the dugout, because of the rule of only three coaches being allotted for each team.
“To be unfairly and illegally cut off from communication with his coaches in such a cold and uncaring manner is inexcusable and unthinkable,” Lihu’e Baseball League president Warren Koga said. Pono, who has defied the odds as not only a baseball player, but as a student as well, epitomizes the true meaning of what the PONY baseball organization stands for — persevering through adversity. If the ruling doesn’t change, Pono will hit the links and enter the Kaua’i Jr. Golf program.
“He loves to golf, it’s just baseball and golf start at about the same time, plus we wanted to get him involved with a team sport from the start and that’s why we chose baseball over golf because as a deaf person he is isolated from such opportunities that team sports provides,” Jimmy said. And according to Pono, the use of an interpreter in golf isn’t needed as much as in baseball.
“When I play golf nobody needs to talk to me,” Pono said.
As Pono putted on the practice greens at Puakea Golf Course yesterday, his glistening smile came through as each putt found the bottom of the hole and that’s the only thing that won’t change — his great attitude!
- Duane Shimogawa Jr., sports editor, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 257) or firstname.lastname@example.org