Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Ferd’s Words | Sports

By Ferd Lewis

February 14, 2021

Updated 12:51 a.m.

Curt Otaguro recalls a time when newly opened Aloha Stadium seemed a place of magic where dreams and redemption came true for wide-eyed high school football players such as himself.

A time when the seats glistened in the Halawa sunlight during the first games of Friday afternoon Interscholastic League of Honolulu tripleheaders.

In 1976 he was the punter for ‘Iolani School when he scooped up a low snap and raced 46 yards for a touchdown in what became a 40-13 upset of Kamehameha, the defending league titlist and eventual Oahu Prep Bowl champion, before 13,805 fans.

Now, going on 45 years later, Otaguro is tied to his one-time field of dreams in a position he says he could never have imagined. He is the state Comptroller and head of the Department of Accounting and General Services, whose widely disparate purview includes crumbling Aloha Stadium and its controversial future. A place where row upon row of faded seats now comes with badly corroded steel plates.

As such you could say he is charged with picking up another loose ball on the turf and trying to turn it into a touchdown, this time for the state of Hawaii.

Barely two years into the Comptroller position after coming over from First Hawaiian Bank, he is tasked to take up the future of a facility that has been fumbled on so many levels over so many decades and help point it to a successful future.

He must do it while listening to an array of consultants and answering to two sets of overseers. There is Gov. David Ige, who appointed him and has challenged DAGS to provide a series of options on which to make a decision. Then, there is Legislature that writes the checks and has before two mirror measures, Senate Bill 1423 and House Bill 1348, before it that are critical to the New Aloha Stadium Entertainment District going forward.

All in the midst of a pandemic and legislative session where there is little appetite for spending money.

While acknowledging that bygone Aloha Stadium days stir “good memories,” Otaguro says they also come “with a heavy heart” with a facility destined to eventually meet the wreckers’ ball. That’s if it doesn’t collapse into a pile of rust on its own first.

In this task he has not shied away from speaking truth to power or sharing some of the daunting details such as the mounting state of deterioration and rising costs to repair or build anew.

Since 2006, barely 33% of requested funding has been provided for needed structural health and safety work. Meanwhile, between 2016 to 2018, the number of steel members categorized as ‘severely corroded’ is reported to have increased by approximately 300%.

In a update late last year, the Aloha Stadium Authority was told the end zone diagonal braces, which are described in a report as “keeping the stadium from tipping over…” are pinpointed as areas of increasing concern.

So time is of the essence, even as multiple visions collide on a stadium that would be an anchor of a 98-acre NASED project the state is preparing to commit to for 99 years.

In 1975 as a junior, Otaguro had bobbled a ball near the end zone and the punt was blocked in a loss to Damien. That memory and lessons learned were still with him in 1976 when he picked up the loose ball and took off. “My teammates saw what I did and started blocking,” Otaguro said. “I do remember Kenny Silva coming in from the left and throwing a block ahead of me, taking out several Kamehameha players. I had to spin to get away and stumbled across the goal line.”

Otaguro said, “I wish I could say I planned it that way. Obviously not. But I did realize that value of teamwork and teammates making things happen makes everyone succeed. Another life long message that has been with me ever since, I am always so very grateful to the team I work with everyday (now) and know that success can only be achieved by everyone working together and not as individuals.”

In discussing the nexus of his Aloha Stadium ties past and present, Otaguro said, “I will tell you this, entering that stadium as a youngster brought a lot of excitement, and it has for generations (of others). But what is really encouraging for all of us is to create a venue like that for future athletes and kids and give them that thrill. To let them see their dreams go forward.”