Falling in line with the public-school Oahu Interscholastic Association, athletic directors in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation voted on Tuesday to cancel fall and winter sports.
The BIIF, comprised mostly of public schools, will take the athletic directors’ recommendation to a principals’ vote on Wednesday — which is almost always a mere formality. That means no air riflery, basketball, bowling, competitive cheer, cross country, paddling, soccer, swimming and diving, and wrestling. In addition, previously postponed sports that were originally pushed to spring are also cancelled: football and girls volleyball. DOE schools voted to cancel; private schools voted against it.
“In a way, I can understand if they’re thinking of the kids’ safety first,” said Kohala boys basketball coach Kihei Kapeliela, who guided the Cowboys to their first state championship last year (Division II). “My thing is, not even trying? It’s going to be heartbreaking telling the kids. It’s going to be the worst news they’re going to hear. They text us, message us on Facebook. Videos of them training. It’s going to be sore for me to tell them that. It’s like somebody dying in your family.”
Honokaa boys basketball coach Jayme Carvalho is hopeful that the final decision on Wednesday is more than formality.
“I can see their hands being tied. It’s not only one school that can make that decision. I just want us as people to have a chance to adapt, just like in sports. What are we teaching these kids right now? We’ve come across the ocean for a reason. I don’t want to lose that. That’s what makes America so great. We’re supposed to be allowed to overcome,” the longtime Dragons coach and former standout player said.
The most prominent of BIIF coaches, nine-time Division I girls basketball state championship coach Bobbie Awa of Konawaena, declined to comment.
On Hawaii Island, the effects of COVID-19 have been relatively modest compared to Oahu. The large expanse of open space between schools and communities, along with protocols, helps in the battle against the pandemic. However, public-school athletic directors voted in line with their comrades in the OIA, who decided to cancel fall and winter sports before the weekend.
A few ADs were hoping to stop the trend of cancellations and, at the very least, save some of the sports with lesser risk. That is the route being taken by the private-school Interscholastic League of Honolulu,
Hawaii Preparatory Academy Athletic Director Stephen Perry was hopeful that the league would buck the trend. Perry also coaches soccer and, like the ILH’s programs, is looking at a possible exhibition schedule for his teams.
“I look forward to getting the students some action in February. Interested schools are working hard to make that happen,” said Perry, who began as athletic director in 1990. “I was optimistic. Our HPA kids have been great. Patient. And they have bought into our protocols. They are itching to compete.”
The most weighty factors for the state’s leagues — litigation, budget cuts and COVID-19 testing — weren’t primary points of discussion, Perry noted. In addition, for the first time, OIA Executive Director Raymond Fujino attended the online BIIF meeting.
Kapeliela is already thinking about alternatives for his talented, senior-laden group.
“If there’s not going to be a league, I think somebody’s going to put something together. I know Randy Apele holds NJB (league) in the summer in Hilo,” he said. “We could play with no fans. Everyone wearing masks on the sideline. Sign waivers.”
The former Kohala player also believes that by cancelling the winter season outright, the BIIF missed a chance to experiment with a version of a bubble.
“I was talking to Benny (Alcoran, Kealakehe boys basketball coach), and Oahu’s problem is way bigger. We’re smaller (in population), so if we tried a week-long bubble, play five to eight games, and even if we have to play a whole regular season in a week, do something small here,” Kapeliela said. “Then maybe Oahu can see that we did it, so why not us?”
Carvalho works for the County of Hawaii, overseeing a dozen facilities over a 50-mile section of the Hamakua Coast. Working within the restrictions of the pandemic, he and his staff found ways to succeed.
“This past summer, we ran summer fun, Honolulu picked it up and ran with it. It was supposed to be cancelled. We modified the amount of time and the number of kids we could pick. A lot of adjustments, and knock on wood, nobody got sick,” he said. “If there’s a will, there’s a way.”
Safety, Carvalho added, is always first priority, but having the flexibility to adapt is also essential.
“Tourists can come in, so what’s the problem? Working for the county, I can see both sides, but I never like to take the easy way out. That is the only thought that is really eating at me. Why are we taking the easy way out? Places on the mainland that have a higher infection rate than us, they played their football season. If we make modifications (to play sports), that will also help our tourism. We’re still not taking care of our home base. If we do that, that will flow into our tourism. I think we’re relatively safe here (on the Big Island),” he said.
“I’m not trying to buck what the state or my bosses want. We just need communication. How come these decisions weren’t made earlier? So people are going to be uneasy, and if we communicate, then we can make adjustments when we have some answers.”