Wanting to be in the game

LIHUE — For 14-year-old Conor Hunt, kicking is innate.

Hunt, an upcoming freshman at Island School, has been playing soccer since he was 6 years old.

After this past New Year’s Day, Hunt became interested in football and took a crack at place kicking.

“I was watching a lot of TV. There was a New Year’s game for college football. I watched that, and just got the interest,”Hunt said during a workout Tuesday at Kauai High School. “I first started around late February. … It wasn’t the greatest, buteveryone starts somewhere.”

Hunt’s father Steven said he contacted Kauai High Athletic Director Kelii Morgado in February, and Morgado worked withConor. Soon, Conor started working out with Kauai High’s football team.

“We hung around. They were very kind. (Varsity head coach Derek Borrero) allowed him to practice with the team,” Stevensaid Tuesday. “We got more and more into it.”

In the few months he’s been practicing place kicking, Hunt has shown immense potential, said Kauai High coaches.

“His form was terrible, but you could see the coordination was there. I said, ‘If he did a few things, then boom, boom,boom.’ Sure enough, he did them and now he’s excelling at it,” said Kauai High special teams coach Pete Dupee. “He waskicking them in the end zone off a kickoff, as a 14-year-old. I was barely putting them on the goal line when I was a seniorin high school.”

“There’s no telling where this kid could go if he does football,” Dupee added. “We’d love to have him here. I don’t knowwhat’s going to happen. It’s his decision. He’s on pace to do very, very well. He’s ahead of his time right now. … He’sstarting to hone it in.”

Borrero said Conor could compete for a starting role in the Kauai Interscholastic Federation. He said during workouts, Conorconsistently converts field goals from around 45 yards.

“He’s technically sound right now. He could start for anybody on this island,” Borrero said. “I’m not saying this just topromote Conor. He’s that good. He needs to be kicking somewhere right now.”

From working with the Red Raiders team, Steven started looking into the possibility of his son playing football this fall.However, Island School does not have a football program.

“We kind of got excited about maybe an opportunity to play. So, that’s when I was researching the HHSAA rules and the KIFrules. This would have been probably in April,” Steven said.

The KIF, which abides by the rules of the state governing body Hawaii High School Athletic Association, states that a studentenrolled at a private school cannot participate in public high school sports programs in which such programs are notoffered at the school they are enrolled in.

Students who are either home schooled or enrolled in charter schools, however, are allowed to participate in public highschool sports programs for the school in whose district they reside in.

Steven, a Kauai High School alumnus, wrote to the KIF and appealed to the league to allow Conor to participate in a footballprogram without transferring. His request was denied.

“All we were asking was the same. If we don’t have a sport — much like the home schooled or charter schooled — if theydon’t offer that sport, he should have the same opportunity to participate,” Steven said. “I understand Island School doesparticipate in some KIF sports, and I wouldn’t be asking to wave that. If there’s another sport that they do offer, we wouldplay at that school. But when they don’t have the sport, he shouldn’t be precluded from playing. The only option we have atthis point is to transfer.”

KIF President Daniel Hamada said the KIF board discussed Hunt’s situation, and it denied Hunt’s request because the leaguehas to be fair to student-athletes regarding its bylaws.

“For us, it’s not just KIF. We’re also part of Hawaii High School Athletic Association,” Hamada said over the phone Thursday.“Basically, to be consistent, a child has to be part of that public school — in this case, Kapaa, Kauai High or Waimea, or theyhave to be part of a charter school that’s in good standing with the HHSAA.”

Hamada added while he would rather have all of Kauai’s high schoolers be allowed to play, the league cannot bend orchange its rules.

“As far as independent schools, people make a choice to attend schools, whether it’s Island School or any independentschool — knowing students wouldn’t be able to (participate), especially if the size of the school is small,” he said.

“We want to give kids all the opportunity to participate. Because we know kids love sports. They all have a passion,” Hamadaadded. “There are clear rules, especially if you’re at an independent school or private school, there’s certain guidelines interms of participation we have to follow.”

Though it’s likely Conor won’t play football this fall, he is still working out with Kauai High’s team.

“People are watching him, and I’m sure — I’m positive — that his presence has affected some of our young men,” Borrerosaid.

Though transferring would be a solution to allow his son to play, Steven is insistent on keeping Conor at Island School.

“Because he’s doing well academically, socially, they offer other things that are good for him at that school, we didn’t wantto move him out of that academic environment just for a sport,” Steve said. “I think that was the intent of the rule — thatkids aren’t supposed to be transferring just for a sport. … But ironically, that’s exactly what would have to happen for himto play. He would have to transfer schools.”

Borrero said he hopes the KIF would reconsider Hunt’s case and allow him to play for one of Kauai’s schools, even if it’s notfor his team.

“It’s about giving these kids the opportunity. It’s not about red, green or blue. It’s about working with these kids,” Borrerosaid. “I don’t know what the legalities are. I don’t know that side of it, but I’m hoping that he has an opportunity to playfootball.”

If a change is not made and Conor still wants to pursue football, Steven said he would consider transferring “as a lastresort.”

“If I got to that point, I’d also be looking at other off-island schools to be honest,” Steve said. “If I can find a combination ofan athletic program and an academic (program) that suits his needs, it may be applying to a Punahou and having myselfmove. … It’s a tough decision.”

For Conor though, he’d rather stay where he’s at.

“I honestly think there should be no reason for a kid like me, without a football team at school, shouldn’t be able to play ata school with a team. The home school kids get to do it,” he said. “I would really like to have that Island School educationand play sports here. That would be really fun.”

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