Having options in the middle of a crisis matters to a whole lot of football teams and players.
That tangible makes the ILH football schedule of 2021 a godsend for players, coaches and the football community. The schedule was released on Monday, a compact and orderly ledger of varsity and intermediate matchups with doses of creativity and maximum emotional impact.
Adding ‘B’ teams from Kamehameha and Saint Louis is a way to get more playing time for players who otherwise would be languishing on the lower end of depth charts, particularly with no JV games scheduled.
Eleven of the 19 varsity games will have Aloha Stadium as the site. Many, if not all, of those games will be televised.
Best of all, the schedule comes with the support of the ILH’s counterparts in the public-school OIA.
“The other leagues, especially the OIA, because of their purpose, they want to see the kids play. For them to be supportive of the ILH, they’ve showed a lot of class,” ILH football coordinator Wendell Look said. “They gave us full support and their blessings to move on. It shows that we’re all in this together. It’s very selfless of them to do this. It’s important.”
The DOE mandated COVID-19 vaccinations for all student-athletes at public schools with a deadline of Sept. 24. Two days before the first preseason games, the OIA and neighbor island leagues postponed fall sports. There were 845 new cases on Monday in Hawaii.
“People think that there’s a divide between the leagues, and this is another step for us coming together and trying to keep this interleague alive,” Look added.
The ILH schedule begins on Aug. 27 and concludes with the title game on Oct. 23. Look noted that ILH teams would then have the option to partake in an interleague schedule with OIA teams.
“We would end at the time the OIA kind of gets started. That gives us options before states,” he said.
With a restart on Sept. 27 and a two-week process to get players conditioned again, public-school leagues may start playing games on or around Oct. 8. The HHSAA announced last week a revised sports calendar that includes football state championships that conclude on Jan. 8.
“It’s up to each ILH school if they want to play. You’re not locked into having to play. If you don’t qualify for states, do you want to have a few more games? Otherwise, you can let (athletes) go to the winter sports early. That’s fine, too,” Look said.
Winter sports, at least on the HHSAA sports calendar, has a later-than-usual start, as well.
“The overlap from fall to winter is only going to affect one or two schools. If they want to play only two more games, then they can play basketball, soccer, wrestle,” Look said.
Winter has traditionally been the busiest season, and even with the later start, the impact of a later fall season will be a challenge for athletic directors, trainers and staff.
“Any time you have change, there’s going to be some work to do, but again, as athletic administrators, our philosophy should be we have to make it work, do what it takes to make this work,” said Look, who is a co-athletic director and football coach at ‘Iolani. “You’ve just got to find a way. If you think about the kids, you’ll find a way.”
It begins a week from this Friday. Other fall sports will get an early start in the ILH, too.
“We just want to give our kids a chance to play now. We don’t know what the future holds. We don’t know what’s going to happen this week. This pandemic caused so much uncertainty that we have the green light playing now and we an do it. Our kids are ready for it,” Look said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen in October and November. We wanted to make sure we took care of the kids, and do it safely.”
The addition of ‘B’ squads is believed to be new to ILH football. It is a common theme in other sports. The ILH has actively used classification within its league for decades, giving smaller schools and programs a chance to compete in three different levels.
“We have some stipulations, but again, we want to reward those kids who have been putting in the time to get ready to play. Unfortunately, the interleague was put to a halt and postponed, so they had nowhere to play, so we have the opportunity to do what’s best for them,” Look said.
There will be no spectators allowed, but that could change later.
“That falls on the community and their responsibility to be a part of this. If we’re going to have high school football here, it has to be everybody’s responsibility to abide by the rules and protocols, otherwise you’re going to jeopardize it for the kids,” Look said.
During the 2020-21 year, the ILH had as many as nine alternate scheduling scenarios for football. The year ended with unofficial scrimmages held independently by Saint Louis, Punahou and Kamehameha. One of the blueprints was to play spring games at Aloha Stadium, but fell by the wayside.
Now, fall football is a go.
“It is what it is. It’s been a long process, let’s put it that way,” Look said. “It’s what we teach our kids. You’ve got to persevere, know what your priorities are. Be resilient. Have a purpose in mind and, obviously, our purpose was to make sure our kids got an opportunity to play.”
Extra points: Kamehameha is not hosting football games this fall due to renovations to their track and field. … There are six intermediate football teams this season in the ILH. … “Spectrum is planning to televise as many games as they can,” Look added.