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Hilo Little League faces age gap again


Hilo Little League is now batting 0 for 2, as far as filling three age divisions — Junior, Senior and Big League.

For the second consecutive year, the season was dark for Junior (ages 13-14), Senior (14-16) and Big League (16-18).

Last year was the first time in Hilo’s Little League history all three divisions were empty. Not enough players signed up.

It’s the same thing a year later.

Hilo Little League president Eugene Narimatsu, in his second year, couldn’t be reached for comment.

He took over from Cheryl Octavio, who pleaded guilty in federal court to embezzling money from Hilo Little League, as well as two youth soccer teams, a pageant organization and a car repair shop. She was sentenced to 19 months.

Before Octavio’s tenure as Hilo Little League president, Western Regional director James Gerstenslager suspended operations in 2010 because of concerns how the league conducted its draft and background checks on volunteers.

In October 2009, the District IV (Big Island) administrator position was eliminated, and Gerstenslager asked District III (Maui) administrator Naomi Campbell to oversee the Big Island.

Hilo’s three older divisions annually competed for not only regional but also World Series berths. Hilo’s Senior League All-Stars won the World Series championship in 2003 and ‘11.

“I think those days are gone, until it rebuilds,” Campbell said. “It’s hard to say what part Cheryl had in it because Eugene overshadows that. After the Cheryl situation, Eugene came on and unfortunately nobody signed up.

“He projected teams but nobody came on for Junior, Senior and Big League. Your guess is good as mine as to why.”

It didn’t help that longtime coach Kaha Wong declined to pilot a team in 2013, and his loyal following of players and parents instead chose to attend his summer showcases.

For years, Wong used the trips to regionals on the mainland as a recruiting college opportunity for his players. But lately, Wong, who’s helped land scholarships for more than 45 players, has run college showcases in his own back yard.

Campbell hasn’t been able to untangle the mess in Hilo Little League, but she’s hit a home run with the other leagues.

“To be a president, you really need camaraderie with the community and give them plain and simple talk,” she said. “In most leagues, you have to go out to the shopping center or schools and hustle to get sign-ups, not just put something on the website.

“On the westside, Little League is really building. My thing is, even though I’m not around visibly, I still talk to the league presidents daily or weekly to train them, so they can go on their own. If they screw up, so what? You just try to improve.

“If they screw up, they can call me. They’re all learning. And it’s about time they go on their own. I’m getting tired and older. But they’ve been doing really, really good.”

The districts — like Hilo, West side and Hamakua — fall under the Little League umbrella. The league presidents could be compared to mayors of each Hawaiian island. Campbell is the boss, consultant and shoulder to lean on for each.

She praised the work of Hamakua Little League president Stephanie Aguiar, who’s Campbell’s assistant, Richard Kaniho at North Hawaii, Karlos Gacayan at West Side (formerly West Coast), Hano Grace at Kona Coast and Dane Sesson at Ka‘u.

“They’ve got really positive people down there at Ka‘u,” Campbell said. “They try so hard and that makes me feel good. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. Dane’s got a good crew out there.

“Hano has brought strong leadership to that area, regardless if they don’t have a team in the 9-10 district tournament. Randy Deaguiar, another assistant district administrator, has been instrumental in helping the West Side both directing and building that area.”

Julie Sedillo runs the Gold Coast softball, where the boundaries stretch from Hamakua, North Hawaii and West Side. Those are three baseball leagues combined into one softball league, started in 2010.

“When softball went to the regional, all the girls cried because they didn’t know Little League would pay their way,” Campbell said. “We’ve got a strong lady there (in Julie) putting teams together, and building the softball program there. Whether the players are skilled or not, we’re teaching them the game. They’re very committed.

“All the presidents have really good board members. I’m going to miss them when it’s time for me to say goodbye. Sooner or later, they’re going to get that district administrator position back. Then they’ll run things on their own.”

 

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