The National Federation of High Schools (NFHS) has removed tiers from its recommended guidelines regarding COVID-19.
The NFHS wrote:
“Two of those factors are that prevailing community infection rates appear to be the strongest predictor for high school athletes being infected, and proven cases of direct COVID-19 transmission during athletics remain relatively rare.
“The other recommended factors to consider are that participants in non-contact sports show lower rates of COVID-19 infection than those in contact sports, participants in outdoor sports show lower rates of infection than those in indoor sports, and using face masks for indoor sports results in similar COVID-19 transmission rates to those seen in outdoor sports.
“The final factor for consideration moving forward is based on accumulating evidence that the majority of sports-related spread of COVID-19 appears to occur from social contact, not during sports participation.
“The committee noted that preventing spread of the virus from social contact remains paramount to the continuation of sports during the pandemic. As a result, social distancing, use of masks, staying home when ill and proper hygiene must continue to be emphasized in the locker room, on the field and court, while traveling and interacting in the community.”
The NFHS has no direct bearing on high school sports in Hawaii, which have been prohibited since March of 2020 by the State of Hawaii.
While the counties have implemented varying levels of protocols, the Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi is examining and adjusting RES021-18, which was passed by the City Council more than a week ago. The resolution outlined protocols for organized youth, recreational and high school sports, from ballroom dancing to wrestling.
The previous administration led by then-Mayor Kirk Caldwell established a four-tier response format that would not permit organized sports until 20 or fewer new cases were reported daily over a seven-day period. That coordinated effort led to one of the lowest COVID rates in the nation.
On Monday, Lt. Gov. Josh Green indicated that the state is on track to immunize 400,000 residents per month. By May 1, Green said, the coast would be clear for sports to return.
Thirty-five states played football last spring. Currently at least additional eight states are attempting to play winter and spring sports.
Unless Hawaii high school sports are extended beyond graduation dates in May, there is very little likelihood that spring sports will be allowed. Many baseball and softball varsity and JV teams use county fields across the state.
Some states, like Arizona and Iowa, have made an exception to extend spring sports season in the past. Hawaii’s spring sports were cancelled in 2020.
“I know in Iowa, where I grew up, high school baseball and softball happen in the summer,” Roosevelt boys basketball coach Steve Hathaway said. “You can graduate already, yet still play your senior year.”
If the May 1 timetable becomes reality, the private-school Interscholastic League of Honolulu will be prepared. There are teams that currently playing exhibition boys basketball games and scrimmages, though the league officially cancelled the sport this winter.
“The school year will be almost done by May 1, so the spring sports will lose another season,” ‘Iolani co-athletic director Wendell Look said. “The ILH is working to see what season 2 sports can be played safely and within government guidelines. We are very optimistic and working to give our student-athletes an opportunity to play since they missed out last spring.”
Some coaches have long conceded to the circumstances in the islands.
“The only benefit I see is that we can have a chance to hold spring (football) practices in preparation for the 2021 football season,” Lahainaluna co-head coach Dean Rickard said. “Unfortunately, it still doesn’t change anything for the outgoing seniors who normally are scheduled to graduate in late May. It’s too late to start any season in May regardless of what sport it is unless they can move back the school calendars a couple of months, which I highly doubt will happen.
“But at least the plans moving forward is much more hopeful that there will be a 2021-22 athletic season.”
On Kauai, the county that executed the most stringent restrictions during the early stage of the pandemic, Parks and Recreation youth sports have been ongoing since October. With only three schools playing football, four overall in most sports, the Kauai Interscholastic Federation is probably best positioned to resume prep sports.
It won’t happen without the state’s consent. At this point, many, if not most, teachers and administrators have been vaccinated.
“Unfortunately, waiting for May is too late, especially for the several families who have moved away and for several more that are on the verge of moving,” Kaimuki football coach David Tautofi said. “It’s unfortunate what this pandemic has caused, especially here in Hawaii, but I’m afraid the devastation is far worse than we realize when it comes to the overall well-being of our youth and, in this case, student-athletes.”
There are parents and players across the state who are considering transferring to the mainland after the third quarter to participate in spring-season football training — rather than move in the middle of summer and learn an entirely new system from scratch. Several student-athletes from Hawaii played football and basketball in Utah, Idaho, Nevada and Texas in the fall and winter seasons.
“It’s not easy to make those kinds of decisions, especially when it’s one that generally isn’t something most families would do,” Tautofi added.
One destination state, Nevada, recently cancelled winter season. Fall sports like football were postponed and rescheduled for a gap between winter and spring seasons. Ultimately, football was shut down for the remainder of the school year.
In California, a movement to bring fall sports back has momentum. The governor there has lifted the stay-at-home restriction as COVID-19 rates decreased over the past three weeks.
In many of the states with the highest rates, high school sports have continued. Hawaii would appear to be positioned to handle organized youth sports better than most; wearing masks has not been the same problem that it is for many states.
“We are one of seven states nationwide that has shut down prep sports since the beginning. Each of the seven states have and are experiencing some of the most concerning numbers in the rise of youth depression, domestic violence, youth suicide and suicide attempts,” Tautofi said.
Delaying the start of a spring season, if there is one, might not help some seniors.
“I just don’t know if the kids have plans after they graduate, before they start college,” Damien baseball coach Skyler Tengan said. “Some kids like to travel and play in (mainland) summer leagues. I wouldn’t want to take that way from them, although traveling during this time might be tough. I’m hoping we can start something a little earlier, but we’ll see what the ILH decides. Safety will always and should always come first.”
Moanalua football coach Vince Nihipali agrees with Green’s forecast, that herd immunity will be in hand by May. That would open the door for football training, however brief.
“I am thinking pod work under protocols will be allowed by the spring,” he said. “I’m chomping to start that. Whatever needs to be done will be done.”