The chronology of girls basketball on Maui has seemed to always include Todd Rickard.
For now, however, there is a chasm. The longtime Lahainaluna coach stepped down from the post on Wednesday, ending an unprecedented run in Maui Interscholastic League girls basketball.
“I talked to them on Tuesday, and the parents,” Rickard said of his Lady Lunas. “They were surprised. I was surprised myself. I didn’t know it would come to this point, but this is the only way I can coach my kids for the next two months. (The DOE) could come back and say there won’t be a (high school) season. Traveling with your club is what gets the scholarships.”
His departure has as much to do with DOE policies as anything else. When the state’s public high schools were told that fall sports would be postponed until late September, that included a mandate that all coaches in all sports would have zero contact with their student-athletes. The Luna players train in Rickard’s Town & Country Basketball Club.
“If I want to coach my kids, I can’t coach high school. I don’t know if that makes sense. The memo was sent out to us: no contact, no volunteer coaches, no contact with the kids until Sept. 24,” said Rickard, who normally trains his players through the offseason for club tournaments on the mainland. “Hey, you guys in the DOE can’t tell us how to run our club. So that was a no-brainer for me. If there is no (high school) season, that’s two months that we wasted. We were all in on the high school situation, then they came up with the postponement two days before football season.”
Rickard’s frustration goes beyond basketball. His son, Tre Rickard, saw his senior season in football wiped out by postponement and eventual cancellation in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My son went through that. It was frustration more than anything else, and being upset. There’s no true answers, just feeling like they were leading him on. I felt sad for him. He put a lot of time in the gym, workouts like a lot of athletes do. Seeing his face every day, it’s deflating. A lot of people went through that and they feel the same way. Now they’re doing that again, basically, and now they’re doing it to our team. They’re like my daughters,” Rickard said.
Seabury Hall girls basketball coach Keoni Labuanan isn’t surprised by Rickard’s decision.
“He has given so much of his time, effort and life opportunities to every single girl that stepped on his court. In my eyes, he has built the greatest basketball program I’ve ever seen. Not just by the win streaks and trophies, but the way his players give their all for the good of the program and not their own personal glory,” Labuanan said. “It was an honor to watch and occasionally coach on the same court as Todd. Best wishes to him and his ohana.”
Rickard’s resignation is a statement, even a protest. Rickard won’t rule out returning to his alma mater under better circumstances.
“I’m doing this for my kids. We always preach about being leaders and not just following people. Sure, when something’s not right, somebody’s got to take a stand or else it’s going to keep happening over and over. Am I happy leaving Lahainaluna? No, but I can’t be coaching under these circumstances. It’s about control and I’m nobody’s puppet. I can deal with blackout periods for three or four weeks, but telling us we can’t coach our club, that’s not right.”
Since the 1995-96 season — back when girls basketball was played in the spring — Rickard has built an empire. The Lady Lunas transformed into the winningest program of any sport in MIL history with 19 league crowns. That includes 16 in a row as Rickard walks away.
The 2010 Lady Lunas won the state championship, a 47-45 finals win over Konawaena that broke the vice-grip held on the throne by Konawaena and Punahou.
That state-title squad spurred the college careers of Maiki (Viela) Tihada and Milika Taufa. Tihada signed with Gonzaga and Taufa signed with Indiana. Now a youth trainer and coach, Tihada was hired to guide the girls basketball program at Maui Prep Academy in March.
At the time, Tihada said she was excited about building the program from the ground up, but her roots are in Lahaina. She grew up working out in the weight room with her uncle, coach Lanny Tihada, and Lahainaluna football players. Then came her rise in Rickard’s Menehune youth basketball program, and all-state player of the year honors with the Lady Lunas.
“I think everyone knows how I feel about Lahainaluna and the love I have for the school and community in general,” Tihada said on Thursday. “That can’t be denied and I’ll always be around. I’ll have my feet on the ground and be hands on with the youth of Lahaina and Maui no matter what position I hold. I take pride in that more than anything else.”
Rickard has that same pride as a Luna. Though he is vaccinated, Rickard isn’t the only coach statewide who doesn’t agree with the new policy. His viewpoint is that sports is not just extracurricular.
“They said that playing high sports is a privilege, but that’s a bogus statement. That’s the kids’ right. The school should be privileged that the kids come to play for them. Kids come to play for me, they’re not privileged to play for me. It’s the other way around. I’m privileged that I get to coach them,” Rickard said.
The balance between academics and athletics is paramount.
“We all know school is a priority. My kids know it. But they keep coming up with excuses on why they can’t play. When I say it’s about the kids, I mean every kid in the state of Hawaii. They say to take care of our elders and keiki, but when they’re going to the mainland, it’s because they’re being chased out. Who do we have to turn to? The kids look to us as coaches for answers, but nobody’s giving us answers. They keep the kids hanging and hanging,” Rickard said.
“Now nobody believes one word the DOE says. They haven’t proven anything right. Are they going to throw the kids a bone, give the kids three games, four games, no state tournament? No. We’re not happy with that. You (DOE) guys are so inconsistent. Now, when they speak, I can’t take them seriously. It’s just words that don’t mean anything.
“I’ve just got to focus on my club. Now I don’t focus too much on the DOE. I just do what I set out to do and prepare the seniors for the season, if there is one, traveling and getting them looks. That’s my responsibility,” Rickard said. “We can’t be waiting for the DOE to tell us whether there’s going to be a season or not.”