Inside Sports for Saturday – October 29, 2005

• A deafening experience

A deafening experience

By Duane Shimogawa Jr. – The Garden Island

In the Hawaiian language, the word “Pono” means “right,” but both the Hawai’i and National PONY Baseball organizations dropped the ball and forgot about doing the right thing.

Possibly the worst type of news was conveyed to 10-year-old Pono Tokioka of Lihu’e, who made state headlines when National PONY Baseball officials voted down an amendment to a rule that absolutely needs to be changed.

Pono’s parents, Jimmy and Beth Tokioka, wanted him to experience the same things that other youths take advantage of in PONY baseball.

But that was taken away recently, and if PONY Baseball officials are smart, they’ll quickly step back and denounce their despicable stance. At the start of the 2005-06 PONY mustang regional tournament in Hilo, where only three coaches were allowed in the dugout, Jimmy was told by Hawai’i Region officials that he wasn’t permitted to sit in the dugout and instead, he was confined to a section which gave him difficulty communicating with Pono using sign language. At first, it was thought that it was a given that Pono be allowed an interpreter at his games.

However, at the regional tournament this past July, the rule needing to be changed was brought to the forefront.

How could someone deny a deaf youth, or any deaf person for that matter, a chance to be given the same chance as others? When I first heard about this matter, I became increasingly upset.

I know Pono and his parents personally, and it’s just a shame how far behind PONY officials are. It certainly isn’t a question about having an advantage, and as I talked to ‘Aiea coach Regan Honda about the situation, he mentioned that it was never a problem for him, the other ‘Aiea coaches, or his players.

He didn’t think it was a big deal at all, and as a coach, he thinks that PONY should absolutely make a change to the rules to allow Pono the same opportunity as others.

But this matter is much bigger than the high-spirited, happy-go-lucky boy, who was apart of history by being a member of the first Lihu’e all-star squad to win the island championship.

Instead, as Beth said, the ultimate goal is to clarify the rule and make it comply with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements and educate people about the matter.

“We also want the rule to be changed because we don’t want other youths to fall into the same unfortunate situation,” Beth said.

The current rule states that “PONY Baseball does not limit participation in its leagues on the basis of disability. All leagues are required to comply with this policy and failure to do so shall be grounds of revocation of or refusal to renew a league’s annual membership.”

But there needs to be a change to avoid confusion.

The Tokiokas want the rule to be amended as follows: “PONY baseball officials, in regular season and tournament play, will make any and all reasonable efforts to ensure that players with disabilities have full access to accommodations to which they are entitled under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and which will allow them to compete on an equal basis with other players. Sign language interpreters and other adults providing such accommodations to players with special needs, who are neither coaches nor managers, shall be considered team personnel as defined in Tournament Rules and Regulations. Players with disabilities will therefore be granted access to such personnel as necessary during regular season and tournament play.”

But shockingly, this “small” modification was struck down by National PONY officials.

Could you even imagine anyone not being in favor of making the change? I couldn’t! But once in a while, we come across individuals who just don’t get it. That’s the question that sits in the hearts and minds of the national office, which stands firmly by its decision.

A decision that is highly questionable, considering that there will be more players like Pono who deserve to be given the same opportunity.

There’s no question that a shameful act has been committed, and if there’s anyone who’s hearing-impaired, it’s the officials at the national PONY office. If they’re really thinking of what PONY stands for (Protecting Our Nation’s Youth), they’d do the right thing: admit they made a mistake and give Pono the opportunity he deserves.


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