Some coaches are understanding, but others are doubtful that the right decisions are being made at the best time.
Coaches around the state reacted to the DOE and Oahu Interscholastic Association’s decision to postpone fall sports until Sept. 24. The league and DOE are requiring vaccination of all student-athletes in fall sports, which led one unnamed coach to question the level of fairness.
“My thing is, OK, why are they making the athletes vaccinate? What about the students in the school? It doesn’t make any sense. We’re closer to the students in the classroom than we are on the court or field. They say there’s social distancing in the classroom, but there’s not,” the coach said.
Longtime Kaimuki football coach David Tautofi has been frustrated by the lack of declaration from the top through the past several months. He doesn’t agree with the mandate that only student-athletes are required to be vaccinated by Sept. 24.
“I don’t disagree with the decision (to postpone), but I understand it. If it’s as deadly as they say it is, they’re playing a dangerous game. We’re just as susceptible to carrying it and spreading it if we’re vaccinated. My issue is, if it were me I would let it be a personal decision, but if they do this, they need to go all in with the full DOE, all staff and students,” he said. “They’re playing a deadly game. Those teachers and students are now at risk.”
Tautofi doesn’t expect a good outcome out of the segregation of student-athletes from the student body in terms of this policy.
“The biggest issue is the divisiveness this will cause when you’re isolating athletics from everything else,” he said. “It was easy for them to pull it off because coaches have no weight in the DOE. They have no representation. There’s no union to represent the coaches. I always try to think positive and give the benefit of the doubt. (Administrators) get paid big bucks to make impactful decisions for the kids. Going with how decisions have been made during the pandemic, it’s highly doubtful we will have a full season.”
By the DOE’s timeline, a Sept. 24 deadline for student-athlete vaccinations would keep teams and athletes away from practices and competition until Tuesday, Oct. 5 — two weeks after the inoculation deadline, the amount of time needed for the vaccine to kick in. That also means that a full season of nine regular-season OIA games, including playoffs, would extend the season into January. That would be new territory.
Reaction by parents to restrictions and cancellations in other states like California has been forceful. That has not been the case in Hawaii.
“I just want to spark people to stand up and raise their voices,” Tautofi said. “For some reason, as a society, we don’t. I want our families to understand what’s going on. Fight for your kids’ education.”
Sterling Carvalho coached the Rebel Squad Pylon team to a title at a national tournament during the summer. Now he’s concerned that a second tackle football season at Kahuku will be steamrolled.
“It is frustrating that our players and parents have committed and sacrificed so much, practicing and training, just to have our season postponed,” Carvalho said. “We do not want a repeat of last year. I feel for those parents and players who are having their agency tested to be vaccinated or not. Prayers going out to everyone that whatever decision is being made, that it will be the best for family and each individual.”
Carvalho, like other coaches, is anticipating a major exodus of student-athletes to states that are playing football.
“Players got burnt once, and many families don’t want it to happen again. I know, as we speak, many schools are calling our players and parents. I just feel for these student-athletes. They just want to play,” he said.
The timing could have been better, Moanalua football coach Vince Nihipali noted.
“I was a bit surprised over the length of time of the pause. It’s a couple weeks longer than I expected, but at least there is a start date moving forward,” he said. “I am bummed out that we won’t be able to go this week already, but that doesn’t stop the preparation for when we do start up again. More film and prep time for coaches, and some needed time for kids that are injured and would miss some time in the beginning of the season, also.”
The Red Raiders coach is still holding on to hope. His message to Kahuku players is about resilience.
“Stay positive. At least now we have an answer and direction in which we are going. It may not be what some players and parents want to hear, but at lest we can have a full season with no cancellations if we adhere to these new mandates,” Carvalho said.
Meanwhile, the Interscholastic League of Honolulu has not made an official announcement. Two football coaches said they plan to continue team practices. They also noted that there could be a backup plan installed to have an ILH-only schedule until the OIA revs back up.
There is no word yet on the status for mainland trips. Mililani is slated to play national powerhouse Mater Dei, while Saint Louis is scheduled to play at Bishop Gorman (Aug. 20).
First-year Waialua football head coach Gary Wirtz is encouraging his players to keep training.
“Just hang in there. We will be back. Keep your eye on the prize and get in any workouts that you can on your own. The more you work on your own the better we’ll be when we get back,” he said.
The reality of another delay is a gut punch for dedicated athletes and coaches.
“It kind of feels like Hawaii doesn’t want our student-athletes to return. It’s already hard enough for them to get exposure to the (colleges) on the mainland, and now we are pushing things back. It’s tough. The rest of the mainland is playing like there is nothing going on,” Wirtz said. “Honestly, it is what it is. Nothing we can do about it but protect ourselves and our families. Get vaccinated if you’re not.”
Kapaa football coach Mike Tresler is asking his players and parents to stay the course, too.
“On the bright side, it’s a postponement and not a cancellation. I heard the rumblings about vaccinations, but the postponement is a complete surprise. We will keep student-athletes engaged and, hopefully, they can somehow maintain some of their physical conditioning. To start over again (in September or October) is tragic and very frustrating. There has to be a better way to transition. We live in unprecedented times. All we can do is remain positive and do our best to deal with the mandates.”
Meanwhile, Konawaena football coach Brad Uemoto has already seen five of his Wildcats depart.
“I can’t say I’m surprised. I feel that something different had to happen and, unfortunately, we’ve gotten to that point. Our five players who transferred account for nine starting positions. At a school like Konawaena, it is detrimental to our program to lose that much. We instantly go from contending to surviving,” Uemoto said. “I feel bad for the student-athletes because they were so excited to get football back. It was a dangling carrot and, for the interim, it got taken away again. The uncertainty kills them and it’s just unfortunate.”
Uemoto isn’t giving up on the season.
“I’m optimistic about everything in life. I still believe our season will happen successfully,” he said. “It’s just hard for these young players to have to go through this all over again.”