By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
The prep stars of tomorrow shined on the final day of the 32nd HI-PAL Winter Basketball Classic on Saturday at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium.
The four-day youth tournament for boys and girls ages 5 to 14 wrapped up Saturday with the older divisions playing their championships at the Civic. The event attracted 56 teams, including teams from Oahu and Maui.
“The tournament turned out really well,” said officer Joseph Botelho, the East Hawaii coordinator for HI-PAL. “We had 56 teams playing at four different venues and they played 150 games in four days. But there’s no way we could have accomplished it without the successful coordination with the County’s Parks and Recreation Department — director Clayton Honma, Mason Souza and Darren Takiue.
“In fact, so many people stepped up throughout the tournament, including a lot of families and the referees, to help make this a special time for the participants.”
West Hawaii HI-PAL coordinator Randy Morris, who played in the Winter Basketball Classic 30 years ago, smiled as he watched the girls 13-14 championship game on Saturday afternoon at the Civic. He pointed to one of the referees, Mark Saito, who competed that same year in the popular tournament in Hilo.
“I played for the Kona Pirates and Mark played for the Piopio Bears,” Morris said. “Neither of our teams won our division, but we had a great time and it left us with a lot of positive memories.”
Morris looked at the on-court competition as talented Na Aikane from Honokaa battled Hilo’s Wahine Ryders in the girls 13-14 title game.
“You look at the skills of the players in this tournament and you know they are the future high school stars,” he said. “There are some really good coaches around the Big Island that are preparing their players well for the next level. And in this tournament against the Oahu and Maui teams, you can see that the Big Island teams can compete with almost any of the teams in the state.”
During the four days of action, Botelho said he watched many of the youth coaches work with their young teams.
“A lot of the coaches in age group were high school stars and now they’re coaching their sons or daughters,” he said. “It’s great to see all of them, from the players to the coaches, mature through the age groups and move on to the high school level. Many of them will be successful at the high school level because of the solid foundation they’ve built in the age groups.”
Honma, a former Honokaa High standout and the current Parks and Rec head, watched Saturday’s title games from the stands.
“We’re absolutely thrilled with this tournament and what it offers to the youngsters,” he said. “We’ve seen some spirited competition and friendships developed, a wonderful skills challenge, and many people working together behind the scenes to pull it all together.
“We’re really happy to be able to work closely with HI-PAL and offer the Winter Basketball Classic. This tournament provides a lot of good memories for the kids and we’re glad they can enjoy the use of our facilities. Playing the final day in Hilo Civic is a really nice experience for these teams.”
Botelho, Morris and Honma said they want to see the tournament continue to grow.
“We’d like to see maybe 70 to 80 teams with teams from all islands,” Morris said. “When teams from around the state come in to play, it gives the Big Island teams a good idea of where they stand from a competition level in the state. But overall, this tournament offers a lot more things than just competition. It also includes good sportsmanship, developing friendships for the players and coaches, and a chance to play in different venues over the four days.
“And if you think about it, playing in the Civic is a great experience, too. A lot of players never get to do that unless they play in the BIIF championships in high school.”
The 5-6 and 7-8 divisions played at Hilo Armory; 9-10 division at the Keaukaha gym; 11-12 at Andrews Gym; and 13-14 at the Panaewa covered courts, before the older divisions closed with the championship round at Hilo Civic.
“It’s fun to watch the kids play and see how they enjoy the game,” Honma said. “But no matter who wins or loses, one of the best heart-warming moments comes after the competition when you sees the kids smile and you know they had a wonderful time being part of the Winter Basketball Classic. All in all, it’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.”
Saturday’s final round winners and runnerups were:
• Boys 13-14: Champion Kona Stingrays; runnerup N-One (Hilo).
• Girls 13-14: Champion Wahine Ryders (Hilo); runnerup Na Aikane (Honokaa).
• Boys 11-12: Champion Punchbowl Ruffneks (Oahu); runnerup Kona Stingrays.
• Girls 12 & under: Champion Na Aikane (Honokaa); runnerup Wahine Ryders (Hilo).
• Boys 9-10 mixed: Champion Rise Above (Hilo); runnerup Shut D (Kona).
Hoops note: The 23rd HI-PAL Hope Chapel 3-on-3 Basketball Jam will be held Jan. 19-21 in Kona. Sign-ups are being accepted through Jan. 11 and there is no entry fee.
Division include: 5/6, 7/8, 9/10, 11/12, 13/14, Girls 12-under, Girls 14-under. Team rosters are limited to five players.
Due to limited space, teams will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. All interested teams should call the West Hawaii HI-PAL office at 326-4646, ext. 258, officer Randy Morris at 936-2789, or the Hilo HI-PAL office at 961-2220 as soon as possible.