Keith Spencer and his Damien basketball team couldn’t play an official Interscholastic League of Honolulu schedule this season.
So they are on a journey of their own making. The team, practicing away from campus since the start of hoops season — facilities remain closed — formed club status and went to Saint Louis for an exhibition battle with the Crusaders on Friday. Saint Louis won, 53-42, but the two teams set a precedent for teams in Hawaii by playing the first high school basketball game on a campus since February of 2020.
“The Saint Louis administration and Dan Hale did a great job,” Spencer said, referring to the Crusaders’ head coach. “We met at 5:30 at the outside entrance. We had temperature checks and he had all seating six feet from each other. Designated spots, blue tape where we needed to sit, coaches and players.”
Officials also provided a role in this COVID-19 era basketball contest.
“Sometimes the masks would slide down and the refs reminded the kids. We kept the masks fresh all the time,” Spencer added. “Once the game was over, we immediately left through a designated exit. It worked out very well.”
Without the involvement of the ILH, the onus is on individual athletic programs and their schools to play competitively or not. In other words, one of the key issues in cancellation of sports statewide by leagues — primarily those dominated by public schools — is liability.
“Everything that we’re providing to the kids is through us as coaches,” Spencer said. “So right now, we’re playing as the Hawaii Raiders (club team). One of my assistants is Greg Ushijima (of Hawaii Raiders). We had to come in as a club team to get insurance. We went through the AAU circuit.”
It was a great relief to the coaches and players, even though spectators were not permitted to enter the spacious, new T.C. Ching Athletic Center. While pickup sports and workouts occur at parks across Oahu, Spencer is happy that his Monarchs have a safe setting for their practices and games.
“We’re not going to stop the kids from playing, so Dan created a safe place for them to play. Now the protocols become part of our coaching. All the Saint Louis staff did a great job that everyone was safe as we could be. You cannot complain about that,” Spencer said.
On the horizon, Damien has a rematch with Saint Louis in early February. A game at Hanalani is also in the works.
“If we can play another school 10 times, let’s play 10 times. The kids enjoy being together. Not going to school full time, they just enjoy being amongst each other. The social part is part of growing up, not just the educational part,” Spencer said. “For their sanity.”