Two long years have passed since the ‘Iolani Raiders won the state softball championship.
The 2020 season was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, but with spring sports on the calendar, the Raiders are ready to go. There’s one problem: they don’t have a field to practice on. The field that ‘Iolani repaired years ago, adjacent to Ala Wai Elementary School, is actually property of the City and County of Honolulu.
By the time school lets out, other groups are on the field. Until permitting begins on Apr. 12, as announced on Thursday, it is an open field.
“We’re struggling just getting field space,” ‘Iolani Coach Benny Agbayani said. “I see a lot of people get on the field and start practicing. People are using it. Nothing is normal. We just started last week. I know the other schools started before us.”
Kamehameha, Mid-Pacific and Punahou are blessed with on-site softball fields. That element of facility usage for ‘Iolani will eventually work out.
“We work hand in hand with the City and County. We have a good relationship. Hopefully, we’ll be back on the field,” ‘Iolani co-Athletic Director Maurice Maggiolino said. “Everybody will have to work towards that. Public facilities are huge for the kids and schools. We all need to work together.”
The softball field, maintained by ‘Iolani’s crew, was once a snarled web of hard, white-dry crab grass. A wild stem would poke a Little League player in the leg pretty good on occasion during practices not so long ago.
Like the modern version of the same diamond, ‘Iolani has been ahead of the curve with the pandemic.
“We’re the only school that’s full blown with students. It’s amazing how the headmaster got this to work,” said Agbayani, who guided the Raiders to the title in ’19.
His oldest daughter, former Star-Advertiser All-State player of the year Aleia Agbayani, is at Cal.
“The kids are doing pretty good. Cal Berkeley is playing. (Some) games are getting cancelled because of COVID,” the coach said. “Cal students are 100 percent online. The difference is colleges have been testing every week. Here in Hawaii, I don’t think we have the money to test all these kids. A lot of them aren’t even in school.”
Agbayani has seen the effects of coronavirus on family and friends.
“A kid’s career, sports is extracurricular. I can’t see sports being played when kids aren’t getting their education,” he said. “You can’t replace someone’s life, but sports, you can replace. It will be played. I had a family member with COVID. One of my friends lost both of his parents, and another one is in the hospital fighting for his life. It’s not something you want to be around. You kind of think twice about your life. We can live a normal life eventually. Right now, we’re not living.”
Another aspect that will be tended to is spectators. In states like Utah, fall and winter sports were played with limited or no attendance. Fans who refused to social distance were asked to leave.
“That’s hard to do in Hawaii. Every family, when their kids play. That’s one of the biggest challenges,” Agbayani said. “No one wants to be that guy.”