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State cautious about resuming high-school sports

The months of seamless radio silence from the Hawai‘i High School Athletic Association on what their plans are to have HHSAA-sanctioned events return was finally broken late Friday afternoon in a webinar.

Mayor Derek Kawakami joined fellow mayors Rick Blangiardi (Honolulu), Mitch Roth (Hawai‘i Island) and Mike Victorino (Maui) to discuss bringing back high school sports safely.

One of the most significant panelists was HHSAA Executive Director Christopher Chun.

Several athletic directors and coaches met to discuss how to safely bring back school-sanctioned sports while attempting to remain focused on mitigating the spread of COVID-19.

Virtually every panelist talked about the benefit young people gain from playing sports that we all know — self-efficacy, self-esteem, teamwork and the fundamental component of success: when preparation meets opportunity.

There was no formal announcement made regarding schedules, and the main point you can take from the webinar is this: there will be a truncated version of a sports schedule.

What HHSAA and organized sports will look like is still being worked out, but the National Federation of State High School Associations Executive Director Dr. Karissa L. Niehoff delivered a powerful written statement in her recent piece, “With 2021 Around the Corner, All States Expected to be Playing High School Sports.”

A quote from Neihoff’s article further reveals the direction of the federal governing athletic body, with the title of the article saying it all.

“We believe students have more often contracted the virus in other settings and brought it into practices or games,” she writes. “However, the NFHS Sports Medicine Advisory Committee is involved in gathering national data about the risk of COVID-19 spreading from direct contact in sports competition this fall.”

We all know this indisputable fact, Hawai‘i, because we are a group of islands have unique challenges related to the spread of COVID-19 more than the mainland faces. Insight on how the Utah High School Activities Association carried on may be useful information.

Timpview High School (Provo, Utah) Athletic Director Wendy Anea held the same postion at Kahuku High on O‘ahu, discussed the issues Utah faced.

“When I first arrived in Utah in August, there were a lot of apprehensive parents about us conducting sports, and what it would look like,” Anea said.

According to Anea, several questions from parents displayed the apprehension, such as: “Will the kids be safe?” and “Will sanitizing equipment be used?” and “Will there be spectators?”

According to Anea, time answered all of these questions, and as they navigated through the schedule, parental apprehension was significantly reduced.

“Utah County probably had one of the highest spikes in the state of Utah, and we (for a while) had to shut down the games to spectators,” Anea said. “When the numbers went down, we allowed spectators to come back to games.”

Unlike Utah, our COVID-19 numbers remained relatively small compared to the mainland, and that is because of the militant efforts of everyone in the community.

Hawai‘i certainly has remained conscious throughout this pandemic, compared to the rest of the United States, and it is because we made sacrifices to be successful.

Chun, whose son competes in spring sports, was involved with several difficult decisions regarding the safety of the players and the community.

“This is important for my son’s senior year,” Chun said. “People always tell me ‘you have kids, and he lost his spring,’ and I would tell them, ‘I don’t want to lose his season this year, but our community members want us to be safe when we go back out there.’”

Former NFL and Canadian Football League player, and University of Hawai‘i star Chad Owens, also weighed in on his perspective of what playing football his senior year meant to him.

“On a personal note for me, I needed my senior year to earn a scholarship, as I played many sports, to give myself a chance to walk-on at the University of Hawai‘i, play football and eventually go pro,” Owens said in the webinar. “We have a possibility and structure we can follow, and we owe it to our kids to give them a shot.”

Owens had some poignant points, and his passion driving home those points was undeniable.

“We’ve been preaching to them their whole athletic careers to don’t be afraid and don’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” Owens said. “We instill this in our children and our athletes, and we have a lot of futures at stake right now.”

Indeed, Owens is correct, but there is no denying these are evolving and challenging times ahead.

Dr. Elizabeth Ignacio, assistant professor of surgery at the John A. Burns School of Medicine at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa, interjected insight from a medical perspective.

“Hawai‘i has a critical number of cases where we might exhaust our resources, not only in terms of hospital beds and treatment,” Ignacio said. “We appear to be amid a surge.”

No doubt the kids have learned what it means to sacrifice their seasons for the protection of the community and economy. Maybe those lessons learned in 2020 and beyond will carry on in their lives whether we have sports or not in 2021.

Let’s hope we can bring back sports without the unexpected intruding. Whether or not that is a realistic proposition remains to be seen.


Jason Blasco, reporter, can be reached at 245-0437 or
Source: The Garden Island

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