LIHUE — The contingent of 30 Kauai Junior Lifeguards and staff of four instructors returned home from the state tournament at Hapuna Beach in Kona without their trophy.
They boarded the plane as runner ups, breaking a string of 11 consecutive victories.
But a day after they returned home, they were awarded first place and a 12th straight state title — thanks to a rectified math error by the judges.
“We didn’t have time,” said Kalani Vierra, the Kauai Ocean Safety Bureau supervisor, of questioning the second-place finish on the Big Island. “We had to board the bus for the plane. The event started late, we stayed as long as we could, but we had to leave so when we heard Kauai was No. 2 and the Oahu team went wild, we left.”
Sunday, Vierra got a phone call from tournament director Gerald Kosaki informing him that due to a miscalculation in scoring, Kauai was indeed No. 1, earning its 12th consecutive state title.
Vierra said during the scoring process, a scorer gave Oahu triple points for the 5-Person Paddleboard Relay, while other teams were given double points. This miscalculation resulted in Oahu getting the lead in the overall points total.
“There were a lot of factors,” Kosaki said in a phone interview. “I should have checked the scoresheets before making the announcement, but there were two teams who needed to leave to catch flights. I take full responsibility as the tournament director.”
In the stressed and chaotic final minutes of the state finals, Kosaki read off the winners.
“I got up early, Sunday and while going over the score sheets, discovered the error,” Kosaki said. “The discovery of the error left me in a dilemma — leave it alone until someone finds it, or do the right thing.”
Kosaki said he checked with Ralph Goto of the Hawaiian Lifeguard Association and the Oahu program and they discussed what was spoken about at the conference, and the importance of the Junior Lifeguard program where it is not about winning or losing, but what the young people learn and use from the program.
“All the islands have supporters who believe in the value of the statewide (and nationwide, for that matter) Junior Lifeguard program — both the competition aspect as well as the overall program which trained, guided and coached more than 400 kids on Kauai alone,” wrote Dr. Monty Downs, president of the Kauai Lifeguard Association, in a letter.
The revised totals have Kauai winning by an overall 712 points followed by Oahu at 636 points. The host Big Island finished third at 543 points and Maui rounded out the field at 357 points.
“Oahu was ready,” Vierra said. “They came with 43 people. We held at 30 people so when the announcements were made, we were in no position to dispute anything. We just gave them the trophy and left.”
Downs said the young people returned knowing they had given it their best.
“I am proud to report that our Kauai kids and coaches were very graceful in defeat, tipping our hats to the deserving victors before embarking for our flight home,” Downs said in a letter. “During the flight, and upon arrival on Kauai, you didn’t see a bunch of downcast kids, even though there was some sting in the loss of our title. Rather, you saw a happy and playful bunch who knew they had given it their very best.”
Vierra said with the scoring error, he estimated Kauai lost by about 70 points. But this is not the first time a scoring error affected Kauai.
“About 10 years ago, we were involved — again with Oahu — where the revised scores worked in our favor,” Vierra said. “Since that time, we started keeping our own scores, but this year, because of how everything worked out, we couldn’t dispute anything — we needed to come home. The fact we just left might’ve worked in our favor because it showed sportsmanship among our people. We weren’t going to argue.”
Vierra said they will be discussing this at future meetings in an attempt at minimizing scoring errors for future events.
“Our kids were top notch,” Vierra said. “When they came home, they didn’t come home as losers. Their attitude was positive and they never talked about being No. 2. They represented the island with true class.”
Vierra said the tournament was the best ever.
“We don’t hold anything against the Big Island host,” Vierra said. “This was the best competition, ever. We’re fired up because we know we’re losing some of our veterans so we’re going to start recruiting from now. That last cheer we did at the airport before everyone left was real — everyone in the state must have heard it.”