Players, coaches cautiously optimistic about full-season calendar

In 2019, Moanalua celebrated after beating Leilehua in double overtime, 21-20, for its first OIA Division I championship. Photo by Jamm Aquino/Star-Advertiser (Oct. 26, 2019).

There are doubters, for sure, but imagine that the HHSAA executive board’s vote and plan to have full fall, winter and spring sports seasons materializes.

For that, there are believers. Optimists.

“It makes me really happy, just knowing I get to play one last time for my senior is amazing. I am not surprised that because my athletic director and principal want a season for us because we missed so much. They always will do everything they can to make us have what we want and we want a season,” Leilehua wide receiver Keawe Andres said.

The last time the OIA played football was the fall of 2019. The ’21 season was just two days away when the DOE postponed fall sports on Aug. 4. When the season resumes on Sept. 27, three days after the mandatory COVID-19 vaccination deadline, football season will extend into the first week of January.

That is great news for players and families who have waited out all the postponements and cancellations. For some schools, the departure of student-athletes to states that played prep sports in 2019-20 and are playing on schedule in 2021-22 is impossible to compensate for.

“I’m surprised, but very happy the right decision was made,” Konawaena football coach Brad Uemoto said. “It’s bittersweet because we’ve lost more players to transfer and we all wish that this could have been decided way sooner. Honestly, no complaints at this point. As we do every year, we will coach whoever shows up and competes. I’m excited for our athletes and I know we will have a little extra in this group because of what they have been through.”

Uemoto believes an exception should be made for student-athletes who transferred out of state and want to return.

“That would be nice. Many of these transfers did not want to go, but did very late and are now fighting to compete at their new schools. I’m sure, with the news, the option to come back home might be better for them,” he said.

Moanalua football coach Vince Nihipali was patiently awaiting any kind of momentum.

“It feels good to have some definitive dates and season information. It sounds like this will be a full season with a later start and later finish, obviously, but a season is a season. To me, it doesn’t matter when it ends. Main thing is that we have some direction,” he said. “I’m not surprised at all. I know they’ve been working on trying to get this moving forward, so this is great news.”

Moanalua volleyball coach Alan Cabanting saw his girls team lose their season in 2020.

“I am so happy for the girls, especially the seniors. I am quite surprised on the decision. I didn’t think there would be a consensus to figure out the backlog between fall and winter season, but I’m just glad they were able to get it done,” he said.

Hilo football coach and State Rep. Chris Todd is pleased.

“I think it’s a show of good faith on their part. There’s a lot of frustration out there right now, so I’m hopeful that this will help to rebuild some of the trust that has been lost during the pandemic,” he said. “I’m pleasantly surprised that the season will not be shortened. This is a good way of reward those families who have turned down opportunities to play on the mainland.”

Radford Athletic Director Kelly Sur had expected a shortened fall season.

“I was very hopeful that nothing would be shortened. I believe all of the athletic directors understand the importance of athletics, especially after the past 18 months,” he said. “Even with the vaccinated people getting infected, I understand that the severity of the virus lessens with the vaccination, but there isn’t one clear set of protocols. So having student-athletes get the vaccination really doesn’t do any good if the whole school is not on the same protocol. Student-athletes practice two to three hours. Students are in school for six hours. You do the science. If everyone is not mandated, why single out athletes, coaches, volunteers who are with sports?

“There are some states that have fought through the pandemic, having three seasons during the heat of the pandemic. Is there anyone seeking advice? We can go on and on. This virus has opened eyes on what leadership truly means,” Sur said.

Aiea football coach Wendell Say is stoked.

“I am happy for our happy for our players, but at the same time concerned about making sure all our players are able to participate due to the shot requirement,” he said. “Hopefully, it all works out for the good.”

Kaimuki football coach David Tautofi had expected the leagues to shoot down state tournaments, let alone allow for full seasons.

“I’m glad we’re taking the right steps forward. We’ve got a long way more, but it’s a step in the right direction,” he said.

Lahainaluna football coach Dean Rickard called the executive board’s vote “extraordinary.”

“I’m not really surprised, but certainly excited to hear the great news. These are unprecedented times that require extraordinary decisions. We’re very glad the decision was made to move forward with a full season. The players deserve this opportunity and we’re pretty sure the fans, families and communities share the same feelings. Now it’s time for all of us to prepare and focus on the season ahead,” he said.

Kale Ane, in his first season as football coach at McKinley, is cautiously optimistic.

“We are all grateful to have the opportunity to play and compete. It’s been a long year for everyone, especially the players. I’m very happy for them. They’ve sacrificed and given up so much,” Ane said. “You’re never sure which direction things may go, especially with the health status we are facing. I would say I was hopeful that we would have this opportunity. Nothing is guaranteed in life. Staying the course and not giving up is a special value. This is what makes the decision so important. It validates the courage it takes to stand firm when times are tough.”


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