In a perfect setting during a global pandemic, high school sports resume in January.
Football, wrestling and competitive cheer, the “higher-risk” sports as defined by the National Federation of High Schools, are a long way from returning. Hawaii requires that a “Tier 4” status before organized sports return, with the current exception of UH football.
“How would or could school administration justify playing sports and not having their students in person (on campus),” ‘Iolani co-Athletic Director and football coach Wendell Look asked. “The ILH would have to follow government guidelines and standards, but anything is possible at this point of time in the world.”
That means, in case the DOE and Oahu Interscholastic Association don’t have a season even with the blessing of the Department of Health, the private-school Interscholastic League of Honolulu would move to Plan B.
“If the OIA doesn’t have a (football) season, I am open for the ILH to have a separate season,” Damien Athletic Director and football coach Eddie Klaneski said.
While public elementary and middle schools open their doors, the process is gradual. As the fall season began, the ILH had begun the process of a a Plan B for football in case the rest of the state’s leagues outright cancelled football.
“The ILH football coaches are for that. Now that we have some indication from (the Department of Health), we should go through with our contingency plan,” Ron Lee said.
That plan would include the possibility of two teams for Saint Louis, he added.
“We could do that and you end up with seven games,” Lee said. “You could schedule the games at Aloha Stadium, spread out the fans. It would be very balanced and I like the fact we could get more kids involved. We have almost 300 kids who signed up for football from seventh grade to varsity. They want to play.”
Lee isn’t the only coach who doesn’t want to see more island student-athletes leave because of the potential of another lockdown. Nevada plans to play its fall sports from February to April.
“You know what’s going to happen? When the word gets out about this 100-percent thing, going into November, when we need to have conditioning workouts, work on scheduling — it doesn’t look good. When Las Vegas opens up, we’re going to lose a lot of kids. Kids are going to leave. It’s going to happen sooner rather than later,” he said.
Administrators and coaches — and parents — may be observing states like Virginia, where virtual learning is in effect, but sports (basketball workouts) are being permitted.
Utah has thrived for much of the fall season, but recent outbreaks across the state have put football and other sports in jeopardy. Football playoff games are being forfeited, particularly in areas where the coronavirus has spiked. In one town, just a month ago, there was a protest against wearing masks. Even now, parents are calling for a reduction of tests — against all common sense in what is being termed, ‘mom code.’
In September, eight high schools in Utah closed due to outbreaks. Now, a total of 11 games have been canceled or postponed. Even girls volleyball in the Beehive State has taken a hit.
Record daily numbers are spreading across the mainland. In Hawaii, the reopening of tourism has residents relieved to be back at work, yet fearful that the virus will take a toll. On Lanai, 65 cases have been recorded just one week after visitors landed.
The success and struggle in Utah is being closely watched by states like Hawaii and Nevada, which postponed fall sports to early 2021.
“It’s probably safer if they stay at home (for distance learning) and come in for workouts with protocols. If we have to isolate and stop, then we stop,” Lee said. “To say we need 100 percent (attendance on campus), that’s more of a risk than coming to practice. It’s not about who’s going to win. It’s about kids participating. We want things to get back to normal. When they say 100 percent, it becomes very discouraging.”
The difference would be real for some student-athletes. More than a handful of island athletes from public and private schools are playing football in Utah and Idaho this fall. If football in Hawaii is shut down for the rest of the academic year, more athletes are likely to depart to states like Nevada that also postponed fall sports seasons.
“We can only hope that everything is brought to the table to be considered and discussed thoroughly,” Kaimuki football coach David Tautofi said. “From there, pray that the decision makers can move forward with a decision in confidence, seeing the positive side and not be influenced by fear.”
Tautofi, a Kaimuki graduate who went on to play at UCLA, believes safety measures will be implemented successfully.
“Football should’ve already been training and practicing. The map of safety plans and protocols have already been shown and displayed to us from the states that have been successful and have been allowing high school football to be played,” he said. “At this point, there’s really no other reason than intentions that beg to differ from what really should be the best interest of our youth the students and communities around the state. We’ve been given (an) antidote to playing a season, but it comes down to what our leaders deem as priority.”
Lahainaluna co-head coach Dean Rickard is Deputy Chief of Police for Maui County. He coordinated the MPD response efforts to assist the DOH and Lanai Patrol District commander and officers.
“I’m for football being allowed either way,” he said, referring to a Plan-B scenario.
If the DOE doesn’t approve a return to sports for the OIA , the Maui Interscholastic League and other neighbor-island conferences would follow suit.
“It would have been great to have started this fall, but it became clear that the fall football season and other higher-risk sports being played were unrealistic given the current pandemic trend. As a coaching staff, what is more important is that athletes and coaches simply be given an opportunity to participate and compete in their respective sports, and especially with proper health and safety protocols,” Rickard said.
“When we heard the HHSAA was looking to start the athletic season in 2021, there was a great sense of relief and now we all have something to look forward to.”