Coaches unsurprised, disappointed as MIL cancels fall, winter sports

Lahainaluna holds the championship trophy after winning the 2019 HHSAA Division II state championship. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser.

The Maui Interscholastic League is the latest of the state’s five high school leagues to cancel sports.

The MIL announced on Wednesday that it has cancelled all fall and winter sports, including football and competitive cheer. Those two sports were slated to begin in the spring after being postponed. Air riflery, basketball, bowling, competitive cheer, cross country, paddling, soccer, swimming and diving, and wrestling — all done for the 2020-21 pandemic year.

“I think it’s because of all the challenges. It’s just reality. It’s hard. Any time you talk about public safety, you have to take everything into consideration,” Lahainaluna co-head football coach Dean Rickard said.

Rickard also a deputy chief with the Maui Police Department and has been part of the response to COVID-19 cases in Maui County.

“Hell yeah, it’s disappointing, but the numbers keep climbing here on Maui, on Oahu, on the Big Island. Ever since they postponed the season, they’ve been reevaluating, and the schools not going back to face-to-face learning, and in-school learning was postponed to February, you see the writing on the wall. I told the kids to expect that,” he said.

Whether it is litigation, budget cuts or testing, every element that could be part of a high school sports season is up for discussion online. However, there has been no discussion about the key points publicly by the DOE, DOH or the state’s leagues.

MIL President Jamie Yap declined to comment for this story.

“We have families protesting, led by students actually, on Kaahumanu Ave. I think the whole West Coast didn’t participate, but with the proper protocols, there’s another 38 states that did (play sports),” Rickard said. “The National Federation of High Schools came out with protocols to implement. So it’s well thought out. They had their football seasons and they did it successfully. So it becomes a matter of politics and financing, and that’s above our authority.”

Another highly successful program, the Lahainaluna girls basketball dynasty, is led by Todd Rickard — brother of Dean Rickard.

“It’s not shocking. It’s just something that everybody expected,” Todd Rickard said. “There’s no real solution to it. There’s a lot of frustration in the communities around the state,” he said.

Todd Rickard began coaching at Lahainaluna in 1995.

“Who are we to say that the people on top should just let us play? We would appreciate it if they would try and if it works out, great, and we made it through the season, maybe we found a solution that other leagues could follow. But nobody tried, so it’s the same old monkey see, monkey do,” he said.

King Kekaulike girls basketball coach Cy Peters wasn’t surprised by the MIL’s decision, either.

“I kind of felt like it was coming actually, because nothing was said. We were told there were tentative plans in November. I prepared my kids for it, but of course nothing happened. I feel for my seniors. I feel for them,” he said.

Covering three islands, the MIL held an “emergency” meeting on Wednesday, which was a simple formality after athletic directors had met on Tuesday. They followed the same path started by the Oahu Interscholastic Association and Big Island Interscholastic Federation. The OIA cancelled fall and winter sports over the weekend. The BIIF followed suit with its athletic directors meeting on Tuesday and is expected to formalize the cancellations at its principals meeting on Wednesday.

“It’s not my judgment to say if what they decided was right or wrong. I’m not going to assume liability for the (COVID-19) situation,” Todd Rickard said. “If something went wrong, you could cancel it, but I don’t think anybody’s willing to try. Did they really try to do something about it? If they did, everybody would be a little bit satisfied that they tried to make it happen. A lot of it comes down to not even getting the opportunity to get on the field, get on the court.”

The hoops coach hoped for something progressive.

“I was kind of hoping that our league would step forward while every other league shut down. Be different, be the pilot project, per se. At least the MIL tried it out,” he said. “But now they’re kicking the can further down the road. The focus should’ve been getting kids into schools before bringing (visitors) back to our islands. That’s the part that is so contradicting. Nobody knows what to believe or what not to believe anymore. Nobody believes they really tried.”

The key issues — testing, budget cuts and litigation — have not been discussed by the leagues and DOE publicly.

“What can you really do? Our supposed shot callers didn’t come up with a solution. Those of us on the bottom have to just live with it,” he said. “Nobody wanted to take the responsibility in March, and now nobody wants to in January, and now, seriously, this could last for another year.”

Todd Rickard also has a son who is a senior football and basketball player at Lahainaluna.

“We thought about sending him off (to the mainland) to play, but Polynesian kids, they like to stay home with their families and represent their communities,” he said.

For club sports in Hawaii and especially in California, there is recent growth and activity.

“Are we going to wait until this is 100-percent clear? It’s frustrating, but it’s expected. But it’s not a surprise,” Rickard said. “Club tournaments and leagues, are they willing to take that risk? Liability is the reason why this thing will never go until this pandemic is over with. Nobody’s willing to dig into their pockets and fork up money. The safest thing to do for the higher-ups is to not deal with it, but the kids get penalized for it. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

Now, coaches and student-athletes are wondering out loud if it may be years, not months, before high school sports is approved in Hawaii.

“I’m starting to see it that way,” Peters said. “If there’s no progress and it doesn’t get better.”


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