The Hawaii High School Athletic Association’s announcement on Wednesday means football, girls volleyball and competitive cheer will have to wait.
Taking precautions to postpone the higher- and moderate-risk fall sports — football, girls volleyball, cross country and competitive cheer — to winter, possibly as early as January, is a big change for coaches across the state.
‘Iolani football coach and co-athletic director Wendell Look cautioned that January is not a lock as a start date because of the nature of a busy winter season.
“January is the earliest that they can play, but there has been no set times on the schedule for these fall sports. It is a TBA announcement. How it got put out is very confusing. It could possibly be played in January, but how are you going to play football when there’s basketball, soccer and wrestling? We’re going to play, hopefully, sometime in the winter or spring,” said Look, who is also the ILH’s football coordinator.
The waiting game isn’t new to student-athletes and coaches at this point. Mililani football coach Rod York is ready to wait it out.
“Now, it’s not new to us. It’s just being extended to January. The No. 1 thing is safety and that’s priority. That gives us more time for a vaccine or to get more info about the virus. That’s what they’ve got to do to keep people safe. I’m sure we’re going to have a season. We’ll be happy to even have one. We’re looking forward to it,” he said. “A lot of our kids play basketball, and they wrestle, and they do judo, play baseball. Everybody’s got to understand it’s a different time and era, completely different from one year ago. Everyone’s going to have to adjust.”
Farrington football coach Daniel Sanchez expected to hear from more players and parents by Wednesday night and Thursday morning.
“You feel bad for the seniors, you know. Hopefully, January will be a good starting time, but you also feel it’s the best thing to do because of the rising numbers and the safety issue. We’ll shoot out an email to the parents and I’m sure a lot of the kids. They’ve texted the coaches so the word is going around. I’m sure I’ll be getting a lot of emails tonight about what’s next. We just have to wait and see,” he said.
Like some other Honolulu schools, Farrington’s district is home to a few housing projects that have been noted for a smattering of COVID-19 cases recently.
“When it comes to sports and you’re mandated to wear a mask, 99.9% of the kids will follow the rules that are in place. I think that’s true at all the high schools. The kids want to play and they’re going to listen to whatever the rules are to get that sport up and going. I don’t see that part being an issue. The issue might be off the field. Are they going to continue to be safe? Or are they going to take off their mask? That’s a factor we can’t control,” Sanchez said.
The spike in cases statewide, particularly on Oahu, is strongest among young adults.
“I really don’t know how you get them, the people who are taking risks, to be safe. That’s the million-dollar question,” said Sanchez, a teacher at Farrington. “Even Major League Baseball, they’re having a hard time controlling this. If the pros with all their money and resources are running into issues, it’s going to be tough for high school football or any sport to do. Our admin has been really adamant about being safe, washing hands, social distancing, wearing a mask. It starts with us as role models. From there the students can follow and comply with all the rules.”
York sees the trend line of young adults becoming the trigger of the recent run-up of cases locally.
“I’m not an expert, but Lt. Gov. Josh Green is my source and the bars and restaurants get hit first. They’re socializing with each other for long conversations without wearing masks, and that’s why it’s spreading. If they would follow protocol, it would be better,” he said. “Within my own circle, too many are not following the COVID-19 protocol. When you’re indoors and directly in front of someone, that’s why the restaurants and bars get hit first. It’s hard because it’s our culture. We’re used to hugging and showing love. That’s why it’s difficult for us.”
Fans at state powerhouse Kahuku will have to save their raucous cheering for a few months, at least.
“You know, as a football fan, we want football. We want to watch football, but as a coach, I’m glad they’re taking into consideration the health and safety of our players. That’s what we have to think about, the future and the safety of everybody in Hawaii with this pandemic going on,” Kahuku football coach Sterling Carvalho said. “I already have a meeting set up with my players tomorrow, online meeting to let them know. Patience. Kids are kids. Keeping their spirits up.”
Kapolei football coach Darren Hernandez is hopeful, but a bit worried.
“Now you’re going to add in the flu season in the fall and winter, if coronavirus is still here, we could end up losing a whole year of sports. Unprecedented. Probably the first time since WWII. The thing that worries me is, if one school, one teacher or student, everything is going to shut down again, and that includes sports like air riflery. It’s just something we can’t get a handle on. We’re flying into this by the seat of our pants,” he said.
Kapolei has only known Hernandez as its football coach going back two decades since the campus opened.
“Well, this past weekend was supposed to have been two-a-day camp and scrimmages, and this Friday was going to be our preseason game versus Kailua,” said Hernandez, who also coached for eight seasons at Campbell before arriving at Kapolei.
He had plans to commemorate that first team from 2000.
“There’s special significance to that: 20 years ago, Kapolei, we were an all-freshman team (in junior varsity) and our first game was against Kailua. It was going to be a cool thing. I was going to invite some off the players from that team to come to our first game this season, and obviously, it’s not going to happen now. Michael Carter, my first offensive coordinator. Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, who was our freshman quarterback back then. It was going to be a fun thing. It’s something you never really imagine could happen. If you asked me in November of 2019, these things would happen, I would probably laugh. I’m hopeful, but it’s very difficult to make any kind of predictions.”
Saint Louis coach Ron Lee had pushed for a postponement since the lockdown began.
“That’s good news. The biggest thing we need to do, we all need to put our heads together. Coaches, trainers, doctors. We need to make a plan,” Saint Louis football coach Ron Lee said. “We need to know how to keep our guidelines and protocol in training, in conditioning, something that everybody follows. Now, at least we have a date and we can plan how to protect the kids, protect everybody.”
Leonard Lau, a former University of Hawaii player and new interim coach at Punahou, saw the practicality of delaying football.
“I feel at this point, how things are going in our community, I support the decision,” Lau said. “At the high school level, we have limited resources as far as testing. This will give us more time to plan and prepare.”
Prep sports is in a different time and space.
“We’re going to play, hopefully, sometime in the winter or spring,” Look said. “There’s really no way we would’ve been able to play now.”