In the three-plus decades Chico Furtado has coached basketball, nothing has brought him to conflicting emotions like the COVID-19 pandemic.
The announcement by the ILH on Monday that its girls basketball season is being cancelled became one of the lowest points of 2020 for Furtado. Less than a week ago, he attended the funeral of a friend who he coached with years ago. Cause of death: coronavirus.
“He’s younger than I am and it took his life. I know first hand, this is not something to play around with. You can’t underestimate the seriousness of this. It’s a tough go. I don’t want any of my kids getting sick. I don’t want my 80-year-old parents getting sick, and I have an 18-year-old grandson (Noah Furtado) who wants to play for a third state title,” Furtado said on Tuesday. “Adversities of life. Nobody to blame. Make the best of it.”
Maryknoll has been a state and ILH contender for a long time. Furtado is in his ninth year, and the Lady Spartans — along with the rest of the ILH — has been in individual skill workouts in their gym for the past month. Sanitized. Distanced. Masked up.
“I think coaches, as part of their nature, they always want to compete. We always want to compete. Kids feel like they’re invincible and they want to compete,” Furtado said.
In hindsight, he noted, maybe higher-risk sports like basketball could have been better served in Season 2 — the spring.
“We feel for the kids on our team, but this is affecting everybody. We’re not just helping one group at the expense of another,” Furtado said.
The ILH appeared to be at the forefront of evolving within the pandemic, safely practicing and welcoming students back to campus on a limited basis. Much has been learned as the world adapts to life with masks on. A few states like Hawaii have completely stopped sports at the school and recreational levels, but most have not. Hawaii’s low COVID-19 case rate is one matter. The requirement of “Tier 4” before organized sports (at City and County of Honolulu facilities) can resume — 20 or fewer new cases per day — is an entirely different one that is altered by an array of factors, including tourism. Case numbers were more than 100 per day last week. Today (Tuesday), the state announced 76 new cases with no deaths caused by COVID-19.
“The expectation of some of these tiers are not reasonable to expect less than 20 cases a day on Oahu,” Furtado said. “Some states like Florida and Ohio, where they have way more people, way more fatalities, yet open for business, open for sports. I turn on the TV and I’m watching high school sports in those states. Sage Tolentino (of Maryknoll’s boys basketball team) was home for Christmas. They’re neighbors of ours and we were talking with his mom (Becky Tolentino). He went back (to Ohio) after Christmas because he has some games coming up.”
So that’s where it stands for winter-sport teams in the ILH. Some — five — are cancelled. Others will begin on Jan. 4 with restrictions.
“It’s a matter of finding a balance between being cautious and living,” he said. “You’re going to crawl up in a shell and rot? How do we find the safest way to live, and that answer differs based on who you talk to.”
Explaining to student-athletes, particularly seniors, that playing basketball in an empty gym is riskier than shopping in a crowded mall or store — never easy.
“A lot of the small businesses have shut down and Costco, Sam’s Club and other places are open. To the small businesses, they don’t understand how thousands of people can be in a big-box store. They’re not always distanced. As you walk through that place, there’s no rhyme or reason,” Furtado said.
“If I’m a small business owner, I’m asking, ‘Who is essential and who is not essential? How can the government make that claim for me?’ There’s a lot of inconsistencies. We’ve never been faced with something like this and it seems like we make stuff up as we go. The people making those decisions, it sounds reasonable to them.”
NOTE: The Tier-4 standard is enforced by the City and County of Honolulu and pertains to Parks and Recreation facilities, including many fields used by high school leagues. The Department of Health and Department of Education have not indicated yet whether public schools (and the OIA) will return to competitive sports.