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An uneven playing field

The Waipio Peninsula Soccer Stadium is “in limbo,” desperately needing repairs and testing teams’ ability to compete there

Just before the Hawaii soccer team kicked off its season last month, a surprise lay in store at the end of the long access road bisecting the Waipio Peninsula Soccer Complex. It wasn’t a pleasant one. The crown jewel of the Hawaii soccer scene, Waipio Peninsula Soccer Stadium, had fallen into an unkempt state. Weeds grew rampant on the pitch. The playing field was no longer completely level in spots.

But the 15-year-old stadium’s woes go beyond the playing surface. Its scoreboard — long in need of repairs — had become increasingly garbled and illegible in recent years, and it was decided before the 2014 season to shut down the display until further notice.
Texas, one of the power conference teams visiting for the season-opening Outrigger Resorts Shootout tournament, initially refused to play at WPSS because of the field situation, which had the potential to affect ball bounces and even player safety.
City Parks and Recreation district manager Glenn Kajiwara oversees WPSS, Hans L’Orange Park and Patsy T. Mink Central Oahu Regional Park. He described the moment as “a rude awakening.”
“It was a shock to me when Bud (UH coach Michele Nagamine) said, ‘Hey, this is our worst nightmare.’ I go, ‘What?’ She goes, ‘Texas refuses to play on the field.’ So, we put our wits together.”
Crews did some emergency watering and weeding, cutting down the grass to a low level and sanding areas of the surface to try to level things off. The shorn, patchy grass wasn’t pleasant to look at, but it was playable, and Texas and Arizona State agreed to keep their matchup there Aug. 22.
On Friday the field appeared much healthier when UH hosted top-ranked UCLA before the largest crowd to ever watch a UH match at the soccer stadium: 4,366.
“I think we kind of dodged a little bit of a bullet there,” Nagamine said after that match. “But you can tell, the unevenness, the dipping and the rolling of the turf. That has to change. I know that it’s hard with the budget cuts and everything, but it’s definitely in a much better place than it was a couple of weeks ago. But we’ve still got a pretty long way to go.”
Two of UH’s team leaders, Krystal Pascua and Hayden Gibson, said they had no complaints about the field after playing several matches on it. A short-term solution has worked with the scoreboard, too; UH has imported a mobile water polo display for three nonconference tournaments to this point.
There remain some herbicide treatments to apply and leveling-off to do. Kajiwara and his staff plan to hit it hard while the Rainbow Wahine take to the road for two weeks before playing their final four home matches. UH won’t be out at Waipio again until Sept. 27 for its alumnae match, and Kajiwara was optimistic that the field’s state will continue to improve in the near term.
Kajiwara acknowledged his staff “could have done a better job with the weeds” prior to UH’s opening tourney but said there are deeper, underlying challenges at the park. He described them as a combination of cumulative field fatigue from year-round events — the UH season, HHSAA boys and girls soccer, AYSO tournaments, club regional qualifiers and adult league championships — and several straight years of budget cuts, which affect quality of equipment and maintenance.
“We’re in limbo,” Kajiwara said. “We want to do a scheduled herbicide program, we want to do a scheduled shutdown program where the fields (inside the stadium and outlying 22) would rest. But it’s really difficult to weigh whether we should cut back and not let people play versus let the public play.”
As for the cuts, he said, “Five percent, 3 percent, 4 percent here, over the past five, six years. In the long run it hurts … when it becomes when you’re dealing with rising fuel costs which runs our mowers, when you’re dealing with rising water and electricity which runs our pumps and our irrigation systems. That really hurts, especially when it’s over a period of time. … The budget really does affect how we operate and how we maintain our facilities.”
The WPSS staff recently had to borrow a quality mower from the nearby Ted Makalena Golf Course to trim the field properly, Kajiwara said.
He’s hopeful the city’s new parks and recreation director, Michele Nekota, can procure more funds in the near future not just for his own Central Oahu district, but for the city’s other four regions as well.
ONE OF THE MORE glaring issues at WPSS for Nagamine and others remains the scoreboard, an original model from the stadium’s opening in 2000. Outrigger Hotels and Resorts, which sponsors many UH soccer tournaments, offered to pay for the construction of a new scoreboard, branded with the Outrigger name, in time for the 2014 season, Nagamine said. But the offer was turned down because a branded scoreboard would have violated a local billboard law.
In the meantime, WPSS awaits word on whether necessary replacement parts can be procured from a manufacturer on the mainland in order to keep the current scoreboard intact. If not, funds could be directed toward constructing a new one.
A decision could be made about a month from now, Kajiwara said.
Nagamine spoke up for Kajiwara, who she said communicates with her often and does what he can in a difficult situation.
UH athletic director Ben Jay took in UH’s games at Waipio over the weekend. He has spoken publicly about moving UH soccer games to the Manoa campus. Jay was sympathetic to the budget constraints at WPSS and said that “Waipio serves us very well right now.” But he still believes the team should move, once the infrastructure at the T.C. Ching Athletics Complex is in place.
UH has new stands and a press box there but would have to widen the T.C. Ching FieldTurf by several yards to meet NCAA soccer standards. That would require redoing the surrounding track as well.
There are no imminent plans to begin work on that, but Jay said it is a “top three” project on his wish list, along with overhauls to Klum Gym and the Rainbow Wahine Softball Stadium.
“I really feel our women’s soccer team needs to be playing at home on campus in front of all the students,” Jay said. “I think that will be a big draw on campus.”
Nagamine, in her fourth season at UH and a longtime club coach before that, has always enjoyed playing at Waipio.
“It’s usually been the selling point for our team,” she said.
The recent problems might have caused her to rethink that, however.
“It’s a shame that one of the most beautiful facilities in the state has kind of lost that shine,” Nagamine said. “You know, the scoreboard, it’s been in a state of disarray and disrepair — they couldn’t repair it for so long. And then when we actually had Outrigger Hotels step up … (getting turned down) is kind of ridiculous because that is not a billboard you can see from the road, obviously.
“You know, it just takes so long to get things done, and that’s the frustrating part. But I’m very optimistic by the people we’ve talked to in the city government, that they’re committed to bringing this field back where it needs to be. And hopefully they will do that and stick to their word.”

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