Coaches: Let the games begin in 2021 with proper protocol

Kahuku linebacker Aaron Fonoimoana-Vaomu (12) rushed Campbell quarterback Blaine Hipa (8) on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019 at Carleton E. Weimer Field. Photo by Steven Erler/Special to Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

Safety first, adaptation second.

Coaches in various sports around the state continue to support the standards for safety. They also note the success of properly-administrated fall sports in states like Utah and Idaho, where football and girls volleyball resumed on schedule.

Kahuku football coach Sterling Carvalho spent a week-and-a-half watching high school football in Utah recently. There are a few athletes from the islands, including Kahuku players, who transferred to the Beehive State to play football this fall. One of them was his nephew, Kainoa Carvalho.

“I would want not just football, but all sports and extra-curricular activities to begin in 2021. Other states have, and are moving forward with, participating in extra-curricular activities and sports. They have protocols in place and are making it work,” Carvalho said. “We can follow and adopt those protocols, and implement what we have to allow our keiki to return to play. Safety should be at the forefront for everyone. However, if we are cautious, follow the protocols and be responsible, we can make it work for everyone, just like other states have done.”

There were hitches in Utah, which had a few early-season games cancelled due to COVID-19, but for the most part, social distancing and other protocol measures were successfully adopted and executed.

“If you just go off the state guidelines, we have to be in Tier 4 to have competitions,” Damien athletic director and football coach Eddie Klaneski said. “I am hopeful that high school sports will get an exemption so we can return to play. Football, if allowed, will be played in spring.”

It wasn’t easy, but the longtime coach and his staff have adapted.

“I believe that football should be allowed to be played if the schools agree that it is safe for their student-athletes to participate, whether they are 100-percent face-to-face (on campus) or not,” Klaneski added. “The safety of our student-athletes and their families is our No. 1 concern during this time. I’m all for getting the kids back on the fields and in the gyms as long as the plans to keep them all safe are in place.”

Locally, there is hope. The reality, though, is difficult to digest for student-athletes and coaches. Winter sports are scheduled to begin in January, and wrestling is considered a higher-risk activity. Fall sports, including football are slated tentatively for early 2021, but again, the higher-risk tag is unavoidable.

The Hawaii High School Athletic Association is working with the Department of Education and Department of Health to have functional, effective protocol if sports resumes in early 2021. Winter sports have already lost preseason games and tournaments, notably the ‘Iolani Classic.

For now, many private schools on Oahu, including those that play in the Interscholastic League of Honolulu, already have students on campus, or are in the process of bringing them back. ‘Iolani and Punahou offer face-to-face and virtual learning options. Saint Louis has gradually brought back students up to ninth grade.

Damien has not opened its doors yet. Hawaii Baptist Academy has resumed on campus with sports in strict protocol.

If and when prep sports return, packed bleachers and arenas may be a thing of the past, at least in the 2020-21 academic year. Photo by Steven Erler/Special to Star-Advertiser.

Public schools remain in virtual mode with some exceptions. At Mililani, students who don’t have access to internet can participate in study hall on campus. Mililani football coach Rod York teaches English and U.S. History.

“They want to do better in school and need a place on campus to do their school work,” York said. “In here, we monitor grades. I keep them focused.”

York wears a mask and visor.

“The windows are open,” he said.

John Kauinana Stadium, though, is not.

“I’m a football coach, teacher, mentor, (but) my personal feelings don’t matter because I am not a doctor, governor, mayor nor school administrator. It is well known that the Hawaii youth sports world would want to be activated, but we trust in our elected government officials and DOE superiors that they are about the safety of all first and foremost,” York said. “When my principal and athletic director tell me we can go, I will unleash my beasts because we are dying to get on the field.”

Konawaena football coach Brad Uemoto agreed.

“I truly believe a player being limited to the exposure of just his or her teammates would be better than attending on-campus school, exposed to hundreds of different classmates on any given day,” he said. “Having on-campus practices while following protocols with student-athletes who distant-learn would be the best compromise to our situation.”

‘Iolani girls basketball coach Dean Young has mixed feelings. The Raiders have won the last two state championships.

“I’m a huge believer in the importance and benefit of sports for the physical and mental health of students along with their social and character development. However, if you assume that students are not returning to in-person education because it isn’t deemed safe enough, I’m not sure how you can justify participation in higher-risk activities,” Young said. “High school sports is much more than just being able to play a game, but the safety of the students, the adults involved and all the families is the most important concern.”

Mid-Pacific boys basketball coach Robert Shklov said the school will begin optional on-campus classes soon, in early November.

“If schools are not at in-person learning mode, it would seem to indicate or suggest to me that we have not reached certain benchmarks or criteria that would allow for a safe return-to-play scenario. I would be uncomfortable with coaching student-athletes in person if their teachers were not permitted by the school to instruct them,” Shklov said. “Mid-Pacific has done a fantastic job regularly communicating with all of us despite this constantly fluctuating landscape. We are all anxiously awaiting the all-clear signal. I do not envy the administrators who are making these tough decisions, but I’m so thankful for their continued hard work to get us back to any semblance of normal activity.”

At Punahou, students have the option of virtual learning, but many have chosen to return to campus. Punahou interim football coach Leonard Lau is also a teacher at Dole Middle School.

“I feel it is appropriate that all sports follow in step with the Department of Health, HHSAA and school protocols for consistency and uniformity,” Lau said. “If not, we are putting everyone involved at risk. I would hope that alignment rather than agreement is the goal for all extra-curricular programs.”

New Moanalua football coach Vince Nihipali is staunch about safety, too.

“I am all for it to go on as long as there are clear protocols to be followed. If blended learning is adopted and/or schools are back in session, I don’t see why we shouldn’t be allowed to (play),” he said.

New Damien girls basketball coach Mark Arquero has several players diligently working out on their own through the pandemic.

“I would love to get the season underway, but it’s important for our players to understand that they’re student-athletes, and the first part of it is student,” he said. “I don’t think it needs to be 100-percent in the sense that everyone is back on campus with a full work schedule, 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., but they should have the opportunity to be in class in some form or another. It will bring back a sense of normalcy so long as the schools can maintain a level of safety protocols.”

Kamehameha girls volleyball coach Chris Blake has guided the program to 10 state titles.

“In Utah, volleyball doesn’t seem to be too much at high risk. Football across the country in the pros, college and high schools are having the same challenges because of the contact and how training is done. At Kamehameha, we’re mainly in a distance-learning format, but we’re preparing to roll in students in a phased approach, and athletes are also a part of that phased approach,” Blake said.

“I think with a differentiated approach, our neighbor islands have different needs and phases. To hold them to the same standard as Oahu, that may be unreasonable,” Blake added. “That’s the million-dollar question. What’s feasible? What’s reasonable? We have families in Hawaii are living in multi-generational households.”

Blake noted the way individual student-athletes, as well as leagues, are forming a no-crossover environment.

“When you’re beginning to go into these pods or bubbles, you also have to make other choices and sacrifices. Making a commitment (to play sports) means everyone in your ohana is safe. If something happens, you’re putting others at risk. It’s the ultimate way of sacrificing, the price to pay to do what’s right for your team,” he said. “The assumption is everyone is operating in good faith. We’re all int he same pod even if we’re in different leagues. Cross-league competition may be off the table. I’m not sure where that lies, whether the OIA and ILH competing against each other is on the table.”

On Kauai, restrictions have been consistent. first-year Kapaa head football coach Mike Tresler believes each island’s league should be able to make an autonomous decision regarding the pandemic.

“The DOE and HHSAA are not considering state tournaments. If that is the case, then shouldn’t each island be given the latitude to determine sports participation given proper protocols? The COVID impact to each island has been different,” Tresler said. “We’ve been fortunate on Kauai relative to COVID cases and community spread.”

In fact, the KIF may have been able to pull off a fall season. There are only four actively participating high schools.

“Hindsight is 20/20, (but) I’m looking back on Kauai’s track record with COVID. It would have made sense to have had a (fall) season completed before reopening,” Tresler said, referring to tourism.

The state re-opened the industry last week. Tens of thousands of visitors have arrived in the islands since.

“My point is that the future is uncertain on how each community will be impacted by the reopening. Therefore, it makes sense to allow those communities to determine how they manage high school sports relative to their impacts. It is not an easy decision. We’ve figured out how to deal with COVID impacts for other activities and businesses. I’m sure we can figure out how to allow sports to continue or re-start.”

At Hilo, Vikings football coach Lave Suiaunoa extols the virtue of patience.

“The safety of our students is always our No. 1 priority. I believe that there are people working very hard and around the clock to finalize a plan to protect our kids and continue their education safely,” Suiaunoa said. “When those plans are in place and 100-percent call back for our students to school is a go, then yes, we should resume with football in the spring.”

Blake hopes for more discussion.

“One of the things I’ve seen over these seven, eight months is that things will change. Plans are just a guide. It’s good to plot those things out and then plan for them, and then shift when the optics are bad. I’d rather us be more careful and say we did too much planning rather than, ‘We could’ve done more.’ I’d rather have (a plan where) we can roll stuff back,” he said.”

Klaneski is among those willing to make more plans than less.

“We are working really hard to finalize our return to play and campus protocols to make it safe for our kids to return and get ready for a possible season,” he said. “The kids deserve it and we need to give them the best chance to be successful. The reality we live in today has really made it hard, but I think if we all do our part, we can definitely get back out there.”

At Kahuku, Carleton Weimer Field is empty and the bleachers are silent. Carvalho has faith that his locker room will be properly sanitized, that his young Red Raiders will fully embrace all protocols.

“For the sake of my players and the sacrifice that families and players have made to stay in Hawaii and finish their high school careers here,” he said, “I sincerely hope they approve our season.”


  1. Recruited not Rooted October 22, 2020 12:28 pm

    Still wondering why it’s ok for UH to practice but nobody else. If it’s really about safety shouldn’t these draconian rules apply to all. Otherwise, what’s the point? Clown show smh!

  2. Let The Kids Play October 22, 2020 1:17 pm

    If it really was about safety for the kids, the state wouldn’t have let the tourists come back. The only thing the state and the HHSAA care about is money. There are many protocols other states have implemented to allow the students to play within the safety guidelines.

    Leaders or whoever is making these decisions, I ask you this. What if your child was a senior? What would you be doing differently to make sure these seasons happen? From what I hear, most Athletic Director’s (not all) are being lazy, just looking to collect their paycheck with the least amount of work.

    We all want sports to come back and there is a way to do it while keeping our communities safe. Now is the time to take action! Let the kids play!

  3. Paul Honda October 22, 2020 1:21 pm

    Point well taken. Can’t rewind the clock. Time is invaluable.

    Also, remember that HHSAA chief Christopher Chun has a child who is a senior, who missed his baseball season last spring (during junior year). I don’t buy that ADs are lazy. They work massive hours during the school year and earn their keep. What I’ve gathered in these past seven months is that the DOE would prefer to be overly cautious than lose a single life, whether it is a student-athlete, coach, support staff, spectators, family members. I believe they are willing to postpone seasons as necessary rather than accept risk. That’s a constant.

    But Utah and Idaho…

  4. Fullcourt October 22, 2020 2:08 pm

    I’m sure there is a few lazy ones ,but most work many hours . Football Saturdays ADs probably come in at 6/7 in the morning and don’t get home until close to midnight .

  5. Sports nut October 22, 2020 2:27 pm

    From what hear the AD’s are lazy how do you know?
    The major problem is if the school’s and state let the kids play and an athlete gets COVID and has a bad reaction to it or dies then who’s to Blame and there will be lawsuits.
    It is easy to go the computer and call them out but who will take the responsibility?
    Think about that

  6. Donnie Sparts October 22, 2020 8:13 pm

    What’s funny to me is how everyone is like we need to play! For what? Skill set, mental mindset, and getting better is more important than playing. If you need to play go mainland. It’s also funny how everyone says we ain’t mainland about other things but now all u saying “well mainland is playing.” Control yourself and get better. Youth sports is also overrated. Too many kids playing year round and their skill set is sub par. Do your part

  7. MyThoughts October 23, 2020 11:14 am

    UH is allowed to practice because they have a budget to conduct regular COVID tests on their staff and players. I doubt the state will be willing to allocate money for frequent tests just to see high school sports take off.

    Conducting a football game is a ton of work for AD’s…there is no doubt they rather collect the same paycheck and not have to do that part of their job. Also, the day to day job duties if sports started with COVID would create a lot more work. AD’s may not be lazy, but definitely relieved without sports.

    I don’t think theres a NEED to play. I think theres a NEED for normalcy. We need to get creative to give back some components to these young adults and progress. If this virus was around for the next 5 years we will not choose to remain status quo.

  8. Robert Passas October 23, 2020 11:29 am

    Donnie- how could you say youth sports are overrated? I care that my 9 year old nephew wins a league championship so he can feel like he is a winner. I don’t care that he isn’t that good. I just want him to feel good about himself. That’s why we had him train with his coaches even during the lockdown. Whoelse is dedicated enough to disobey mandates in order to put the work in? I don’t think my nephew is smart enough to go to college, but my other friends and family’s kids need to play so they can get a scholarship. As a matter of fact, I think college is overrated. So, I really just want kids to have fun in their teens and be the studs in high school. At least they can look back on the first part of their lives and be proud about something. Donnie, Let the kids play and enjoy their lives now. Stop worrying about their futures… it doesn’t matter because it’s so expensive over here anyway, let em have fun and live it up.

  9. Old School Dave October 23, 2020 11:30 am

    Utah high school football soon to be shut down due to COVID-19 cases.

  10. Recruited not Rooted October 23, 2020 9:41 pm

    @#7 My Thoughts…Sounds like a plausible argument but that’s not the point. No where in the government mandated Tier system plan, that took them 6 months to come up with, does it say “organized sports activities can operate if they can afford to test themselves.” It actually says organized team activities are not allowed until Tier 4. Typical politicians, do as i say because I have the POWER and you will listen to me, not as I do. The infection rate for kids that have returned to school is about 1.3/1000. Per the CDC around 100 children have died from covid this year, with most of those having underlying condition. In comparison, the seasonal flu has claimed 188 kids this year. Kids are 20 times more likely to die from homicide and 10 times more likely to die from drowning than covid. With this mentality we might as well cancel school and sports every flu season since it’s more deadly than covid for our youth smh. Better yet let’s just cancel sports forever because they might be dangerous.

  11. IDGAF October 23, 2020 11:21 pm

    About 38 to 40 states playing high school sports now. Should’ve let our kids play before they let the tourist come in and walk around with no mask like they own the Hawaiian Islands!

  12. ??? October 25, 2020 4:26 am

    Tourist & foreigners acted like they owned the Hawaiian Islands since “1893’s OVERTHROW“ sad fact.

  13. Rough riders pride October 28, 2020 4:47 pm

    If you follow the politics you will can understand what’s going on. 1st the Teachers Union understand that money was available in the the White House package in the first stimulus package but was taken out because money supposed to be fore Covid-19 related not pay increase. So the Union said the teachers dose not feel safe. 2nd stimulus package have for school so they can open and the language money can be use in any way for schools can operate, one is to increase teachers pay due to Covid-19 risk. Nancy Pelosi continue to not accept the stimulus package, she wants more money, this cause school closures. Once the stimulus package approved. School back in session.

  14. RL October 30, 2020 2:50 pm

    Donnie Sparta your a idiot if you think youth sports doesn’t matter alot of kids are playing sports to help their future by earning scholarships to go to college & it helps kids to keep their grades up & in some cases keep them out of trouble

  15. Bronson Gambill December 30, 2020 9:25 am

    As a father, coach and pastor I believe we need to have protocols in place first before we start any sports. I feel really bad for our seniors that are outstanding student athletes that are looking for one more opportunity to show other colleges their athletic abilities. Also there is no science that backs the fact that being out doors is more risky than being in doors .Regular testing, temperature checks masks and social distancing could be done. I know it easy to say all of this but the responsibility is not mine please keep in mind if you are part of the decision making process our young men and womens future is on the line here. My prayers are with you leaders. Mahalo Bronson Gambill

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