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Expect new protocols, policies once prep sports resume after COVID-19 pandemic

  • JAMM AQUINO / NOV. 19
                                In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, school officials will have to decide what changes are needed in close-contact sports like football to keep students safe. Above, Lahainaluna celebrated after defeating the Kapaa Warriors in the 2019 HHSAA Division II state championship in November.

    JAMM AQUINO / NOV. 19

    In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, school officials will have to decide what changes are needed in close-contact sports like football to keep students safe. Above, Lahainaluna celebrated after defeating the Kapaa Warriors in the 2019 HHSAA Division II state championship in November.

It’s still too early to determine how the new coronavirus pandemic will play out, and when life as we know it will return to a semblance of normalcy that, of course, will include sports.

So what will high school athletics in Maui County look like six months from now?

Maui Interscholastic League Executive Secretary Joe Balangitao Jr. said the outlook is unpredictable and tenuous at best.

“First and foremost is stopping this pandemic, and everything else is irrelevant,” remarked Balangitao last week from his home in Wailuku Heights. “I was watching ESPN, and they were talking about planning for Major League Baseball and all that. I mean, you can plan all you want, but what transpires in the next few weeks is the key. You don’t want to be insensitive — people are dying. … You can do all the planning in the world, but you’re not going to be able to play anything until we stop this thing.

“Everybody is hoping for the best. We have to take care of this first and worry about the other things later.”

As of press time, the state Department of Education had closed public schools through at least April 30. Traditional high school graduation ceremonies statewide have been canceled.

Looking ahead to the 2020-2021 school year, Robert “Bobby” Watson, co-head football coach of four-time Division II state champion Lahainaluna High School, said he is not confident about having a fall season, particularly one that involves travel.

“To be really honest with you, I can’t see them opening up next season,” said Watson, the state’s most senior head football coach with 30 years of experience and Hawaii’s third all-time winningest football coach at 214-108-6. “Unless they come through with a vaccine or something, where everybody has to take a shot, I don’t know how you can reopen school or even have sports.

“You have to be realistic; kids are going to be kids, and they are going to touch each other. You can’t keep them apart, much less a football team. How do you even get them to come together if they have to be 6 feet apart?”

Until a COVID-19 vaccine is discovered and widely distributed, there are too many risks, Watson said.

“How do you tell teachers, ‘Don’t worry, you’re not going to get sick’? How can you promise that to everybody? You cannot, so how do you take that responsibility or liability to say that it’s OK to open up?”

Maui High School Principal Jamie Yap said even if the pandemic wanes, our everyday routines have forever been changed — and that goes for hygiene protocols and procedures at public schools and in prep sports leagues.

“Let’s say we are going to go back and open a school in August and we start football again. There have to be policies and practices in place to help determine how this is going to continue,” said Yap, who is related to this columnist.

He said he addressed the issue at a principals videoconference meeting Monday.

“We talked about what the future may look like if we decided to go back, because what was normal before is not going to be normal now. We may disinfect helmets before and after practice, everyone brings their own water, all the coaches will have to wear masks, the kids may have to wear masks, whatever we decide to do.”

Yap added, “Once we go back to school, the rules change. Everybody has to play by the same rules and be cautious.”


Rodney S. Yap has been covering Maui sports for more than 30 years. Email him at ryap2019@gmail.com.


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For more Hawaii high school sports, visit the Hawaii Prep World.

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