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Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sullivan hustles to help athletes get scholarships

By Dave Reardon

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, May 31, 2009

Doris Sullivan admits it began with her own kid and a few of his friends.

He and many of his Damien teammates were deserving of college athletic scholarships. But for every Manti Te'o who has Charlie Weis stalking him, 10,000 Billy Sullivans exist who must chase down the dream.

Thanks in large part to Doris' hustle as well as his own, Billy played football and lacrosse at the Air Force Academy and is now a fighter pilot. She also helped one of his pals, volleyball player David Woodward, get into St. Francis (Pa.). Now he's a doctor.

That could've been it. But, no -- we're talking about Doris Sullivan. It's still about her kids, but the family is bigger now, just by a thousand or so. "Aunty Doris" founded the Pacific Island Athletic Alliance, a grandiose name for a non-profit that doesn't make a dime for Sullivan but helps save thousands of dollars for families of Hawaii athletes.

Even in the Internet Age, potential scholarship recipients from here often went unnoticed. But events like PIAA's eighth annual football combine at Saint Louis yesterday have changed that. PIAA has facilitated college placement for around 900 athletes.

Sullivan uses marketing and public relations skills and contacts she began to develop as an employee of Washington's NBA team back when it was the Bullets.

"I figured if I can market prima donna pro basketball players I can help some deserving kids get scholarships," she said.

But it's much more than a match.com for jocks and coaches. In addition to documenting everything about prospects from GPAs to 40 times, PIAA educates students and families about the tricky process of choosing and getting into a college.

Private companies charge thousands for such services, but Sullivan does it at cost. The only way the former bank manager can balance the books is through donations and volunteers.

Coaches like Darnell Arceneaux and Eddie Klaneski and a wave of high-profile players of recent vintage like Brad Kalilimoku and Timmy Chang volunteer. Grateful parents of PIAA "clients" also sweat it out, registering participants and performing other tasks.

"Even kids who graduated this year came back to help, guys like Dalton Hilliard and Chauncey Makainai, Corey Nielsen," Sullivan said. "They called us and said they wanted to help. They're paying it forward to the next kids."

Her husband, Bill, is retired from the NCIS (yes, that of the Mark Harmon TV show) and is a freelance investigator. He contributes to Doris' 50-60 hours a week of volunteer work.

Some University of Hawaii football fans think this venture's success hurts the home team.

"I get that all the time," Sullivan said. "But ask the coaches, UH gets the dibs, gets the information first. Sometimes kids want to go away. If they want to go to UH, they'll go to UH. I don't get the kids scholarships, they get it themselves."

The Sheraton Hawaii Bowl and other sponsors help, but donations are hard to come by.

"If we were helping 100 ballerinas or 100 violin players, we'd probably get enormous amounts of grants," Sullivan said. "But because they're athletes, people assume they're getting full scholarships to go to college. That's not the case 90 percent of the time."

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