The Big Island Interscholastic Federation made it official on Thursday as principals voted to cancel fall and winter sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The league’s athletic directors had voted to cancel two days earlier as case numbers increased after the holiday season. The BIIF followed in line with the Oahu Interscholastic Association and Maui Interscholastic League.
“This hurts my heart,” said Konawaena girls basketball coach Bobbie Awa, who has guided the Wildcats to nine Division I state crowns.
Several coaches, including some who preferred to talk off record, were hopeful that the BIIF — an incorporated, independent entity — would take a different route.
“I was hoping somebody would say, let’s try it with the protocols. I’m sure everybody was waiting for somebody else to be the first (league),” Kohala boys basketball coach Kihei Kapeliela said.
Instead, air riflery, basketball, bowling, competitive cheer, cross country, paddling, soccer, swimming and diving, and wrestling are done for the 2020-21 sports calendar. Football and girls volleyball had been slated for spring season, but that plan was also dismantled.
“I know the state operates as a unit. Obviously, being fair is an issue,” Konawaena football coach Brad Uemoto said. “I believe we as an island have been diligent in preventing spread and even when we had outbreaks, it was well managed and ended. Why can’t we add sports to the list of events that we allow? Tell a player to wear a mask while playing a sport and they are so desperate, they’d do it.”
For a smaller school like Kohala, the success of its basketball program has always been a unifying theme. There are some broken hearts in Cowboy country.
“I kind of knew this was going to be the outcome. It’s hard to hear it, but I kind of knew what was happening,” Kapeliela said.
The Cowboys were poised to repeat as Division II state champions. They trained in the offseason and were aiming at winning the unofficial, overall BIIF title. Now, there are many questions coming from parents and players.
“There might be some complaints, but it wasn’t the ADs’ call. It was a vote and everybody voted this way. A lot of the Kohala guys are talking about it on Facebook and stuff. They’re bummed out, the parents and the players,” Kapeliela said.
Honokaa boys basketball coach Jayme Carvalho was looking forward to the season. It was going to be the tallest Dragons squad, perhaps, since the days of Kaulana Noa, who went on to play football at Hawaii.
“We have a boy who is 6-5, 6-6 (Emery Eberhard) and a 4.4 student. Another one, Nick Center, is 6-3, 6-4, a Shane Bell kind of athlete,” Carvalho said, referring to one of Honokaa’s iconic athletes of the 1980s. “A (football) receiver, high flying, dunks and everything. I’m having coaches check them out.”
Carvalho was an all-BIIF guard in the 1990s who scored more than 20 points per game before playing at UH-Hilo. He credits the game for increasing his focus as a youngster.
“A lot of guys won’t be pro, NBA players, but they’ll become pros in life. I don’t have all the answers, but it’s so frustrating because sports kept me out of trouble,” he said. “We’re in the blackout period, so we can’t even be with our own kids. I text them and that’s all I can do.”
Kealakehe boys basketball coach Benny Alcoran is also missing his group of Waveriders.
“This was the group of kids that got me into coaching basketball. I don’t even know what to say. I started coaching basketball because of this group. They were in fifth grade and now they’re seniors,” he said. “It’s not good at all.”
The Kohala community is taking it hard, too. Kapeliela mentioned a former teammate, and father of a current Cowboy and the trail of frustration.
“Kalei (Emeliano) was at the store and they were asking him, “Is there basketball?’ Wherever we go in Kohala, people are asking,” Kapeliela said.
The nuts and bolts of decision-making by the DOE, the DOH and league officials has more to do with risk management and priorities, in Uemoto’s perspective.
“That’s the hard part. The state considers risk and reward. High school sports have little financial appeal. The risk to all of this is the unknown damage it is costing kids,” he said. “That should become a priority at some point. I understand the reasons behind sports being a risk. When we talk about football, I feel that every single play is a risk. Every bus ride to a game brings risk. On our team, we talk about perseverance all the time. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it was a time to really teach these student-athletes what it means to persevere.”
Uemoto isn’t certain this is the end.
“I still believe there’s hope. I’m pretty optimistic. I just don’t see parents and players accepting this and moving on. I think we can come up with a plan to force some reconsideration. We may have a chance.”