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MIL football season may start in February

By BY WALTER CHIHARA - | Nov 27, 2020

Dean Rickard serves as Lahainaluna High School's co-head football coach.

LAHAINA — The Hawaii High School Athletic Association and the Department of Education announced last week that interscholastic athletics are tentatively set to begin on Jan. 5, 2021. This start date covers low- and medium-risk programs, with high-risk sports, such as football and wrestling, in limbo with Feb. 5 set as a possible start date.

Hawaii thus remains one of only three states across the country that has not restarted high school sports this year. The strict care and attention to COVID-19 protocols is understandable, and the attention paid to prevention here in the islands is indeed commendable, yet the anxiety and loss for the student-athletes, coaches, families and communities is undeniable.

Maui County Assistant Chief of Police and Lahainaluna High School co-head football coach Dean Rickard has spent his entire life immersed in the culture and traditions here on the West Side.

“Of course it would have been great to have started the football season in the fall as traditionally done every year. However, we are definitely in unprecedented times, and it became clear that the chance to play football, as well as other high-risk sports, were unrealistic given the current trends of the pandemic,” he said.

“As a coaching staff, it was very disheartening to think that our seniors would not have the opportunity to play football after all the hard work preparing themselves this off-season and over the past three to six years, as many of them have been with the program since the sixth grade,” he continued.

“While some may still have opportunities to play collegiately, for most of our seniors, this is probably the last time they’ll ever play football again or have the opportunity for another league championship or state title.”

It was reported in September that one of the seniors transferred to a Mainland school to pursue his football career there.

The Lunas were primed for the 2020 season and looked forward to moving up to the HHSAA Division I level after dominating the Maui Interscholastic League D-II competition with 13 consecutive titles as well as four straight state championships.

For now, that is all on hold as the pandemic makes its insidious spike as the holiday season approaches and public schools and athletic programs hold their breath behind their collective protective masks, awaiting the decisions of the school boards and associations.

A partial list of those seniors includes Esekielu Storer, Tre Rickard, Treven Tihada, Nico Knickerbocker, Ekolu Mathias, Neil Agbayani, Sky Smith, Nicki Liwang, Hector Murillo, Shawn Abut, Kuhao Kane, Julian Armstrong, Austin Saribay, Keven Murillo, Hookipa Sakalia and TJ Galoia.

Coach Dean explained, “After we heard the recent news from the HHSAA about the plans to start in 2021, there was a great sense of excitement and cautious optimism by our coaching staff and student-athletes.

“We strongly believe that all student-athletes and coaches should be given the opportunity to participate in extracurricular activities and compete in their respective sports, but more important than that is the need to ensure that safety and health protocols are in place and strictly adhered to minimize the risk of exposure and infection for everyone involved,” he added.

“As a coaching staff, we are limited in the amount and type of contact we are allowed to have with the players and are awaiting further instructions from the DOE and HHSAA as to when these restrictions will be lifted. For our players, many of them with our program since the sixth grade, they fully understand what they need to do for any upcoming season. Many of them have taken it upon themselves to continue with their conditioning and strength training, so I guess you could say this fall was just an extended ‘off season’ for them,” Rickard continued.

“We are definitely in unprecedented times, and there is still a lot of uncertainty, but the hopes of football in the spring gives our players, especially the seniors, a light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. For now, we’ll have to wait and see, as only time will tell,” Coach Rickard concluded.