Spring Sports Coaches Poll: Optimism for most outdoor sports, doubt about football

'Iolani held up its third state softball championship trophy in school history at the 2019 state tournament at Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium. Photo by Andrew Lee/Special to the Star-Advertiser.

Confidence in high school sports is fairly high for air riflery, Cross country, baseball, esports, golf, softball, tennis and track and field — despite the ongoing challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hawaii Prep World polled dozens of coaches in spring and postponed fall sports. Twenty-two of them responded over the weekend — before the ILH made an announcement about cancellation of five winter sports.

Coaches from the OIA, ILH, MIL and BIIF participated in the voting.

Postponed fall sports
Air riflery 8.1
Competitive cheer 3.8
Cross country 7.05
Football 4.05
Girls volleyball 5.1

Spring sports
Baseball 7.55
Boys volleyball 5.77
Esports 9.0
Golf 8.5
Judo 2.8
Softball 7.5
Tennis 8.2
Track 7.18
Water polo 4.95

(Note: Among the sports that were postponed during the spring, competitive cheer is being rescheduled for the winter season. The ILH announced on Monday that it would resume with only dance routines.)

Baseball and softball, still scheduled for their traditional spring seasons, have almost no difference in their respective vote totals. Boys and girls volleyball, however, have a difference of more than 11 percent despite being slated for the same spring season.

Multiple coaches noted that Hawaii is one of just “a handful” of states still not playing prep sports. Others expressed mixed emotions about the situation. At this point, ILH sports have been roughly a month into individual drills and training with all protocols in place. The rest of the state has not done any workouts on campus.

In addition, the reformatted seasons 1 and 2 will require some tough decisions for some student-athletes.

“I have faith that some of the sports will be played. There have been practices going on at school and such,” Kamehameha baseball player Pa‘a Elarionoff said. “I haven’t seen track practice at all. I think there are so many sports and athletes that do track during the spring as a second sport that they aren’t going have enough,” the senior said.

Chris Blake, Kamehameha girls volleyball coach

“The importance of these extracurricular activities to the fabric of high school is very important. I believe that the safety of all participants and coaching staffs is of the highest priority. With that being said, I am hopeful that there will be a season. Even if the competition is just within the respective leagues, it will be a step into regaining the rhythm of normalcy.”

Blake has guided the Warriors to 10 state championships. During the fall, he noted that the team is aware that they need to keep their social circles to a minimum. That would give them a chance to have a season at some point.

“I do feel that the outdoor sports have a higher likelihood of going. I also do think that most competition will be without live spectators. I trust in the leadership of the leagues and HHSAA to make the difficult decisions to move us forward,” he said.

Walt Grilho, Waianae baseball coach

“Deep down in my heart, I yearn for athletes to move forward and commence once again. However, I still have mixed feelings regarding possible upcoming proposed effective protocol that will keep our student-athletes and coaches safe. Moreover, what intended plans will be set in place to significantly minimize the chances of community spread of COVID-19 while participating in high school athletics,” he said.

Wendell Au, Leilehua softball coach

“I rated each sport with our young athletes in mind. Not the sport, competition nor physical side, but the mental effects that this has and will do if we don’t get them back into some sort of normalcy. We need to look at repairing and healing, and not running and hiding,” Au said.

“With distance, tracking and safety first and foremost, I believe that it can be done. The open fields and areas with the least amount of contact sports I believe can start things off. I know everyone would feel bias toward their own sport, but we have to be reasonable and take smaller steps to recover, have the bigger picture in mind and reopen safely.

“The trainers and other supporting cast will need to be ready and able to support the athletes as we try to get back off the ground. Prior to the shutdown, there were some leagues that had really good measures in place. However, there were some where gatherings were evident. When it comes to high school sports, that can be definitely regulated a lot easier.

“Bottom line, we need to open up and we need to do it wisely.”

Dean Rickard, Lahainaluna football co-head coach

“It’ll definitely be much easier for the DOE and HHSAA to allow sports that have minimal or preferably no contact between the athletes. These sports will not require extensive safety measures and precautions to be implemented and strictly adhered to before any type of pay is allowed,” he said.

Several coaches in this poll and the previous winter sports poll noted that case totals on the neighbor islands are significantly lower than Oahu. Some suggested that those leagues — the Kauai Interscholastic Federation, Maui Interscholastic League and Big Island Interscholastic Federation — should have the autonomy necessary to make independent decisions about sports activity.

“That would be ideal, and I know there’s been talks about it, but I am not aware of any solid plans at least by the MIL to do so at this point,” Rickard said.

Sterling Carvalho, Kahuku football coach

The Kahuku community is in mourning for assistant football coach Maui Kahalepuna, who died recently due to COVID-19 related complications.

“I pray for the health and safety of all those affected by this virus. My prayers and condolences go out to our very own Maui Kahalepuna and family,” Carvalho said.

Keenan Sue, Punahou baseball coach

“What a great opportunity and challenge we have been afforded,” he said. “With no promise of a season, no potential reward for all of our hard work, with so much uncertainty, can we still commit to our process and preparation? Do we really want what we want? Are we mentally tough enough to do what needs to be done when it needs no one? These are the conversations we must have with ourselves every morning. How we answer those questions, and the actions that follow, will tell us a great deal about ourselves.”

Sue saw several of his players lose their senior seasons in the spring of 2020. The impact of the pandemic has been lasting.

“They’ve all made real considerable sacrifices. Real sacrifices. Some of their parents have lost jobs,” he said.

Eddie Klaneski, Damien athletic director, football coach

“Low risk (sports) have a good chance of going while moderate and high will be very hard to go because of the current tier system restrictions,” he said.

Rory Inouye, Waiakea baseball coach

“I hope we can get the pandemic under control so they can get the spring sports in for the seniors who lost their junior year and are in jeopardy of missing their senior year. Of course, safety comes first. There are youth sports that are practicing and playing, and doing it under safe conditions. A small environment and teams can be managed. I’m hoping to see high school baseball and softball,” he said.

Kimo Higgins, Hawaii Prep track and field coach

“Without picking favorites, some disciplines naturally lend themselves to more safety with respect to COVID prevention. At the top of the list would be tennis, golf and air riflery. I am positive that participation in any of these sports is safer than going to the neighborhood grocery store. Conversely, some activities are inherently dangerous if social distancing is at all a priority. These would include judo, water polo, wrestling, football and competitive cheer,” he said.

“In my opinion, a middle group also exists. These are sports that could easily be held in conjunction with some forethought and slight modification. For example, the start of a cross country race might appear to be a super-spreader event. However, with modern chip timing, the races could easily be run time-trial style, like in the Tour de France. Teams could take off in their own bubble in a staggered format and scores calculated afterward. Track and field events could also be conducted this way.

“Would this pose an extra burden? Of course, but any official or coach involved in high school sports has already committed to a monumental sacrifice of time that is never fairly compensated. These dedicated folks would get the job done.

“In summary, the reality of the COVID era will inevitably cost our kids some specific sports. However, we adults must push the limits of our creativity and effort to give the kids the opportunities and memories they deserve.”

Peter Jay, Kalaheo cross country coach

“Everything can’t revolve around COVID. There’s lots of other things to consider. Hawaii is one of a handful of states no having high school sports,” he said.

John Hao, Castle football coach

“I hope the DOE can come to an agreement and find a way to allow our kids to play any sport in general. If the mainland can find a safe way, I think we can, too. There are protocols already in place for positive test results,” he said. “We just have to be vigilant and safe.”

Daniel Sanchez, Farrington football coach

“As of right now, I feel the less contact sports might get an easier time being approved, especially the sports that do not require players of being in close proximity of one another. The more contact sports like football, wrestling and judo will have a difficult time getting approval. The most important thing is the safety of the student-athletes and those involved,” he said.

Vince Nihipali, Moanalua football coach

“Everything depends on how this latest surge in cases goes. I think that fall sports are more likely to be affected by what’s going on currently than the spring being that there is a couple more months between. It really is a wait and see what the decision makers are gonna do. Safety is the No. 1 priority, and all we can do is our part in ensuring that we are doing everything right,” he said.

“This isn’t something we can hide or run from. It comes down to liability. Tough predicament the decision makers are in. As a business owner myself, I can relate to the difficulty of the situation.

“For now, my primary focus is on getting these kids looks and opportunities at the next level. Using this down time to help this class of 2021 as much as possible.”

Mark Hirayama, Mililani baseball coach

“I hope the time comes when we are able to participate in sports again. Sports play an important role in building our young people. It teaches them how to be team players, how to compete and how to deal with adversity,” he said. “As a coach, it’s not about wins or losses, but developing young men that will go out and be good citizens and contributors to society. I anxiously look forward to the day we can take the field again and continue building our future through sports.”

Rudy Domingo, retired Leilehua bowling coach

“I honestly think that we will need to put safety measures in place and invest in sanitizing machines for each sport, test all coaches regularly, have all players sign a contract about following COVID rules or be suspended a game. Same or coaches, too, just for safety reasons,” he said. “It’s too difficult to do those things because it does cost money. Also, if they do decide to play, then they need to designate specific locations to play games. For example, Mililani (John Kauinana) Stadium or Farrington (Skippa Diaz) Stadium.”

Darren Johnson, Campbell football coach

“I hope for a good decision to be made. I hope the kids get to play,” he said.


  1. neal December 30, 2020 6:56 pm

    i think the state needs to get the kids back in the classroom before they figure out a way to play sports. yes teamwork and sportsmanship is an important part of their lives. but, it’s always school first, sports second.

  2. Will Garko December 31, 2020 1:15 pm

    Well said Neal! Yes athletics are important but these athletes are STUDENT-ATHLETES! Remember what “should” comes first!

  3. Whatsup January 1, 2021 11:35 pm

    You can do remote learning, colleges have been doing that for years. You can’t play these sports virtually.

    Make the parents sign a hold harmless agreement and leave it up to them to risk playing.

  4. Oldmans January 2, 2021 12:24 am

    Let’s face it folks, football ain’t happening. Reality sucks doesn’t it?

  5. HAL January 4, 2021 5:45 pm

    Outdoor minimal contact sports—softball, baseball, track, tennis should make a real push to play. There is minimal risk. Most of them lost a season already. Shame if they miss 2 seasons. Most of those kids hang out together already with no spread of covid. Play!

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