On Any Given Weekend
It’s the last game of the season. The championship game.
Two teams take the field at Kapiolani Park on a muggy Saturday morning in April. For the next 90 minutes, it’s pure drama. When the dust settles the final score is a 16 to 3 rout. First Hawaiian Bank has defeated City Bank for the 2000 “Financial League” mountainball championship.
Organized company league sports teams are common in Hawaii. Construction and hotel unions regularly offer a number of team sports for their members to compete with industry peers. There’s even rumored to be a medical league made up of health care and hospital employees.
But the grandaddy of them all is arguably the unofficially monikered Financial League. With or without a real name, it’s one of the oldest organized business employee leagues still sponsored by actual businesses.
Just visit a city and county park or gym on almost any weekend morning or pau hana evening. It’s likely you’ll find some of Hawaii’s largest financial companies—and even a few non-financial ones—competing on actual, rather than metaphorical, playing fields in a variety of team sports. Forget whose annual revenues are higher, or which bank has the biggest market capitalization, the question on everyone’s mind on the court is: Who’ll take home the championship trophy at season’s end?
“The competition is real strong,” says Don Keliinoi, a retired HMSA executive turned unofficial financial mountainball league commissioner. “The young players in our league take it real serious. Then there’s old guys like me who just play for fun” Explains Todd Nitta, a First Hawaiian Bank business credit officer, about the differences in his financial basketball league: “Everybody wants to win in our league.”
According to Keliinoi, the current incarnation of financial league team sports got its start back in the 1930s in what was then called the Businessman’s League. Lead by mountainball—a slow pitch version of softball where the ball is launched to the batter in a high graceful arc—the league had employee teams sponsored by Bishop Trust, Matson and even a pre-GTE Hawaiian Telephone. In 1960, the sizable number of banks, savings and loans and insurance providers in the Businessman’s League broke off and formed their own league—a financial league. Basketball was added to the new league in the 1970s, followed by volleyball in the 1980s.
Over the years, the number of companies sponsoring teams climbed, mirroring the non-stop growth of the state’s economy. After peaking in the mid-1990s though, company team counts dropped following a wave of consolidations and closures in the local banking industry that took its toll on all league sports. The league’s commissioners decided to take on non-financial teams like BHP Petroleum (now Tesoro) and Honolulu Cellular (now AT&T Wireless Services) who were clamoring to get into the league.
Individual sports are organized so that they accomodate work schedules. “Companies either pay for some of the fees or everything…caps, shirts, pants, the whole bit,” says Keliinoi. Injuries are generally covered by workman’s compensation. And indeed, company liability is a big reason why the financial league is one of the last true company sponsored employee leagues in town.
But regardless who sweats the details, employees really sign up to play for two main reasons: affection for the game and the chance to meet others who are smitten as well. “I joined because I love volleyball and I wanted to meet other people who loved the sport too,” says Fe Reed, an administrative secretary at First Hawaiian Bank. League play also offers a valuable networking opportunity.
“After games, folks eat lunch with their teammates under the trees at Kapiolani Field,” says Keliinoi, of the mountainball league. “City Bank is always next to HMSA, so I know everyone at City Bank.”
Curt Otaguro, senior vice president of First Hawaiian Bank operations research and development, says that the leagues are also a great place to let one’s leadership skills shine. Team leader duties hew more to field abilities rather than the rung one holds on the corporate ladder. As such, an executive might actually find her volleyball abilities being questioned by a part-time teller with an awesome spike. Says Otaguro, a former mountainball team leader: “Yeah, the guys just love to give me plenty of b.s. even though I’m senior rank.” And that’s fine by him.
But just wait until Monday morning.