Vince Nihipali, Ron Lee, Sterling Carvalho, Dean Rickard on status of prep football

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).

The state of football remains unsettled for Hawaii’s high school players and teams.

The lack of activity for football programs and players since the fall of 2019 could mean tough decisions are close at hand for athletes and their families this spring. There could be many more ready to transfer to the mainland to ensure a senior football season.

Private-school football programs on Oahu are close to engaging in scrimmages and games on a limited, exhibition basis this spring. Saint Louis will visit Kamehameha on Apr. 17, sans spectators. Two weeks later, the Crusaders will play at Punahou.

At last check, former Kamehameha football player Tausili Akana was uncertain about where he will spend his junior year. He was at Kamehameha as a freshman, moved to Utah and played for Wasatch as a sophomore. With more than a dozen football scholarship offers, he is currently enrolled at Kahuku.

For Akana and many more players, spring football preparation is a key element to becoming acclimated to any program. This is why, for some families, decisions may be made sooner rather than later, particularly with no clear path for public school football in the coming fall season.

Meanwhile, at Moanalua, spring sports as well as training for football are co-existing.

“We’ve been on campus in football pods already. This will be the start of the fifth week for us,” Moanalua Coach Vince Nihipali said on Tuesday. “Keeping our numbers down per guideline, splitting the groups accordingly. Bigs go first session, 1.25 hours and skills go second session, 1.25 hours. COVID protocols, kids screened and temp checked prior to participation.”

Coaches have been adjusting as well as their student-athletes, it appears, both on the field and in the weight room. Not all schools have opened weight rooms.

“We’re able to go outside,” Saint Louis Coach Ron Lee said on Tuesday. “We send a lot of our kids to Mike Lafaele’s gym. Opening our weight room would require a lot of supervision, wipe everything down. It takes a lot of manpower. I’m hoping to open it soon.”

Moanalua utilizes its weight room and field by staying in small numbers.

“It’s all about planning and working that plan,” Nihipali said. “It’s tedious and cumbersome, but it’s been great for the kids. Work on that time frame in its specific small groups. We don’t use the weight room much, but we’ve been doing the bigs in there in their small groups. A lot of cleaning and sanitizing.”

The other challenge is simple numbers. Normally, football will use part of the field, if not all, when spring sports are inactive.

“Spring sports have priority, but I’ve been able to get in there with our ‘ohana pods’,” Nihipali said.

Spring sports are off to a good start across public schools statewide. The Oahu Interscholastic Association hasn’t officially released its regular season-only baseball and softball schedules, but at least one high school has posted its game sites and times online.

OIA golf has been underway for a few weeks.

The private-school Interscholastic League of Honolulu has been active with softball and volleyball — girls and boys — in the past couple of weeks without a hiccup. No spectators allowed, and all events are streamed live online.

A major key, more so than ever, has been preparation on the part of trainers — if administrators are willing to weigh the risks and benefits.

“To each his own, I guess. I can’t speak for other schools or coaches, but I can say that we have had the utmost support from our administration and athletic department,” Nihipali said. “I understand that spring sports has an actual season, which is exciting, and everyone else will benefit with the success of spring sports. I’m sure there are reasons why some have chosen to start or not start up.”

Lahainaluna co-head coach Dean Rickard sees the breadth and depth of the pandemic up close in his role with the Maui Police Department.

“For us here on Maui, nothing has changed and we are just waiting for the green light to proceed with spring football training. After one year of basically no football whatsoever, spring training becomes more important to reconnect with our players and get back to quality organized practices in preparation for the upcoming 2021 season,” Coach Rickard said. “Of course, the UH football situation doesn’t help either.”

The program at Hawaii halted workouts earlier in the week due to concerns about health and safety.

Kahuku Coach Sterling Carvalho has seen the departure of several players to the mainland.

“We are hopeful that there will be some type of training soon. It is important that we start soon, not just to get our players training and preparing for the upcoming season, but to give hope and instill faith in the players that a season will happen,” Carvalho said.

With Hawaii nearing 700,000 vaccinations, and a goal of 800,000 by May 1, per Lt. Gov. Josh Green, there is clear reason for optimism. Lee, the longtime coach, warned about the lack of discussion at higher levels regarding high school sports dating back to the spring of 2020 when the pandemic began.

“I’ve been asking our athletic directors if we should really start getting ready, not do it the same way. We should have a target date in June or July. Don’t wait, and next thing not have an idea and plan,” Lee said. “Especially in public schools, kids are all over the place. It’s time to organize and get them ready for next season. This year is done. When are we going to talk about it? Nobody’s talking about it.”

The DOE and public-school leagues made it a point of emphasis to ensure that spring sports wouldn’t lose a season for a second year in a row. Nationally, 90 percent of states have played most or all fall sports, whether during the fall, winter or current spring season.

“My experience watching this past year transpire is it was terrible,” Lee added. “They kick it down the road, kick it down the road, kick it down the road.”

Saint Louis football has been on the field twice per week, sometimes three times, for the past few months.

“We’ve been practicing and we have these scrimmages for these seniors to have some kind of season,” Lee said. “We end this (scrimmage season) in May. Normally, everybody’s getting ready for spring football in May, June. The public schools are worse off than us. We need to find out what the plan is. I talked to some of the OIA coaches and they really don’t know. They can’t find their kids, so it’s ridiculous.”

Many public-school football players are gravitating to club teams, working out on and off the field daily. MBC recently played two games in Southern California. Trench Dawgz saw its showcase with Winner Circle Athletics cancelled — or forfeited — when California reversed field under pressure from a parents-group lawsuit and allowed football season in the spring.

A recent tri-scrimmage between Trench Dawgz, MBC and Millville Trojans was the closest thing to a full-contact high school football game on Oahu in ages. Trench Dawgz will travel to Las Vegas in two weeks to play Sin City Legendz, a Nevada club team coached by former Hawaii and Roosevelt standout Chad Kapanui.

There was interest from some public school teams in playing 7v7 games with Saint Louis.

“A lot of them wanted to play, but (OIA) coaches cancelled because their kids are playing at Pylons,” Lee noted.

Club football fills a void in the offseason, but Lee is disappointed about the lack of overall progress for prep football.

“We’re back to where we were, waiting for the word, and that hurts the kids,” he said. “I worry about that, getting kids prepared for college. One good thing about (Mayor Rick) Blangiardi is he takes a stand. I think he’ll fight. I think he’ll do the right thing. That’s what I like about him. We open up, the numbers go up, we have to live with that and get the economy going. I think Blangiardi works better with the governor.”

On Monday, Mayor Blangiardi said he was “dead set” against Oahu moving back to Tier 2 from its current status of Tier 3. On Tuesday, he sent a request to Gov. David Ige to change the criteria that determines tiers.

Prior to the ILH’s January cancellation of football season, there was some thought about creating split squads to provide more game action for bigger programs and the league’s smaller programs.

“Our ‘B’ team was going to play with ‘Iolani and Damien, but all of a sudden Damien dropped out and ‘Iolani dropped out,” Lee said. “We have some seniors who have a shot at college. We’ll help them get (footage). With the colleges letting athletes have another year (of eligibility), that really makes it tough.”

Lee believes the final two weeks of May would be ideal for public-school football programs to get back on the field.

“Maybe May 15, have spring ball for two weeks or five days just so they can condition and get their kids together,” he said. The coaches need to be told that they can have spring practice in May, at least let them know what they can start doing.”

A different time. A different mentality.

“When I first started coaching in ’68, we had athletic directors that were also coaches. Alex Kane. Larry Ginoza. Johnny Velasco. Hugh Yoshida. They looked out for the athletes and coaches. Now, you can’t be coaches as athletic directors, and they don’t understand. I saw how they did it. I learned a lot from all those guys. They were unbelievable,” Lee said. “They ran athletics during those times with (former OIA executive director) Billy Smythe, tough Ted Fukushima, and my AD. They were tough how they ran athletics. Now, nobody looks out for the kids.”

There was no pandemic back then, though. Lee has searched for a morsel of optimism in the past year, and found little from those in charge of prep sports — whether it was truly their call or not. He is still stunned by the ILH’s decision to cancel football, noting the 8-1 vote — by the league’s “board of nine” — with the lone vote in favor of playing cast by Saint Louis.

“You take the job as AD or head coach, you have to take everything that goes with that. The kids and the program as the priority for your decisions, you believe in what is right, you go for it,” he said. “Don’t kick it down the road, pass the buck. I’m lucky I’m at Saint Louis. We’re trying to do our best.”


  1. Highest point on the island April 7, 2021 10:39 am

    So its ok for Mililani , Kapolei to go full pads claiming its club football? Its not fair for all the other schools. Mililani and Kapolei basically have their actual varsity football players playing in these club leagues , going full pads, full contact, basically getting an edge on all the other schools. To me thats not fair. Dont get me wrong, im all for it lets just go already and start football, but if other schools are getting an edge, its not fair. Now you have Mililani football with more than half the football boys not even from Mililani, but yet they play for mililani? whats wrong with that picture? In my eyes it would be ok to have club football , but when you have the actual coaches out there that actually coaches that varsity team, its just not right and fair. At least Kapolei doesnt have their head coach out there. But Mililani has their whole actual coaching staff out there. Too much ego’s going on. I bet Mililani and Kapolei so called ” Club Teams” dont even follow any guidelines to insure the safety of the kids?But well , i guess when you can get away with things and nothing is being done, might as well poke around some more.

  2. Old School Dave April 7, 2021 1:04 pm

    Simple. Just draw up a legally binding waiver that absolves the schools, DOE, State and each league (OIL, MIL, ILH, BIIF) from any responsibility for anything COVID related (infection, illness, death). Players, coaches, parents, spectators (you watch a game, you sign a waiver, too) understand that they are playing, coaching, watching a game at their own risk. No lawsuits or medical claims related to the virus would hold water in court. Then, can play ball. Nuff with da finger pointing. Everyone knows it’s a liability issue. Sheesh, even UH football, who tests their players 3 times a week has shut down now due to careless behavior.

  3. ILove Hawaii April 7, 2021 3:40 pm

    Moanalua seems to be doing it the right way.
    It blows me away that RR’s havent even started working out yet.

    Are there any other schools working out on their campus?

    With regards to these club teams, Im glad for the seniors and thankful that this option is available for them. I just hope that they are trying their best to follow safety protocols.

    Lets get a roll call of how many schools have lost key players to Millville.

  4. Old School Dave April 7, 2021 5:38 pm

    Hope these coaches, players and their families know about the FAFSA and other ways to get to college. Not as much (or glamorous) as a full-ride football scholarship, but it’s a start.

  5. Falcon Future April 8, 2021 1:19 pm

    If all the schools that are masquerading as club teams followed all the proper steps to get the boys and coaches registered for club ball, then it’s all good. If they are true club teams, they should not be using any school facilities or equipment. If they are doing that, then it’s all good.

    Other schools can and should do the same thing instead of complaining about it. The OIA is not allowing football this year. Period. That’s not changing. If boys really want to play football on the field before the end of May, the only option right now is to form club teams and play each other.

    On the other hand, if there is proof that some club teams are not registered properly or are using school facilities and equipment, then by all means turn these guys in and let the schools and leagues hand out proper sanctions.

  6. Aloha Stadium April 9, 2021 12:05 pm

    Really? you really think these club football teams are really abiding by the rules? maybe some of the rules, but not the key ones. Not to mention , these club teams are not even doing temperature checks and filling out paper work before every practice and games. Recently on the news, with the new covid strains, all the covid cases are linked to youth sports, go look it up. I feel like some of these coaches dont care and are only about getting known for themselves rather than the kids. Right now these club coaches are taking advantage of this situation so that kids from other schools can play for them , and then, you all know whats next, transfer time. Thats what its about, getting an edge. Heard the sabers are not getting involved in any of this because of the consequences that may come with it. The only 3 teams that i know of playing in this club football are trench dogs, Mililani, kapolei. Trench Dogs are doing this to benefit the kids and get them to be looked at for the next level. Mililani and Kapolei are doing this to get an edge on the other public schools and to look good as coaches. Thats it. So with the mililani and kapolei club teams, its the same kids that would be playing varsity football representing their high school, for them to start now with full contact , is a way advantage. Thats all Im saying. If they were to have these club football without the actual high school football coaches that coaches that high school, then to me its all good. But not when you have the actual coaches out their coaching this club football, thats totally getting an edge on all the public schools.

  7. East side comment April 11, 2021 9:16 pm

    There are more club teams than Kapolei, Mililani and Trench Dawgz

  8. Palolo Valley King April 12, 2021 8:35 am

    anybody got word on the Saint Louis Mililani scrimmage? Heard Mililani kind of played with them, but also heard half the Saint Louis starters wasnt playing due to injuries or other issues? Can anybody confirm? Also heard the leader was going ballistic for Mililani, can anybody confirm that too? I got word from a few sources that was there, just trying to confirm. Thanks.

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