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Sabers give back by helping out at clinic

With their season on hold, Maui High players join coach at event for kids with special needs

Cade Antonio takes a mighty cut as Maui High School baseball player Cory Sigrah looks on during the Maui Stingers Baseball Clinic For Kids With Special Needs on Saturday at Maui High. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

KAHULUI — It was the only organized sporting event allowed to go on in Maui County on Saturday, but it had good news written all over it.

The Maui Stingers Baseball Clinic For Kids With Special Needs went on as scheduled at the Maui High School baseball field and batting cage on Saturday morning. Regina Corniel, wife of Sabers coach Chase Corniel, was one of the main organizers of the event.

“This is our second annual for baseball,” Regina Corniel said. “We had our first basketball clinic in January and we’re also working with the Maui Ocean Center. We do movie events as well for kids with sensory sensitivities.”

The Corniels’ son Ezra, who has bilateral microtia — a condition in which a child is born with an ear or ears deformed or absent — was one of nine Maui Stingers in attendance, getting special attention from the Maui High team.

As Regina looked across the field and saw every Saber baseball player who was on island in attendance — one was on a previously scheduled family trip — she smiled widely.

Maui High baseball coach Chase Corniel poses with wife Regina and son Ezra, 4, on Saturday.

“It does warm my heart, it makes me so proud of our family, what we accomplish as a family,” she said. “And how we can support this community that doesn’t have this much.”

Keelan Yagi, a senior catcher for Maui High, said the event helps keep the current world situation of the coronavirus off their collective minds.

“Yes, it really does help take things off our minds,” Yagi said. “This just shows what we’re grateful for.”

Yagi said the Sabers would have been at the event no matter what the situation around the world was. All high school athletics throughout the state were halted late last week due to concerns over the coronavirus.

“It feels great to give back to the community, seeing these kids play like how we do,” Yagi said. “It’s just amazing to see this.”

Maui High’s Taelen Bates helps Kaisen Suzuki, 12, with his batting fundamentals during Saturday’s clinic.

Yagi said that seeing his coach work with 4-year-old Ezra makes it clear just how fortunate the Sabers themselves are. To be able to help their coach with the special project was clearly important to all of the Maui High team.

“It feels good because he comes to practice every day, making us better,” Yagi said. “We’re here to give back to him.”

As Chuck Dando watched his son Zach work closely with the youngsters, he remembered his days as a standout at the University of Hawaii Hilo. Chuck Dando graduated from Baldwin in 1992 and UH Hilo in 1997.

“It was great, it was things that we looked forward, Coach (Joey) Estrella did a great job in Hilo in the community and still does today,” he said. “We used to do the Special Olympics bowling tournament on Saturday morning once a year. It is just something that is so rewarding and you realize just how lucky you are at times.

“The joy that those athletes would get from just bowling and hitting a pin, they would celebrate as if they won a World Series or Super Bowl. It was just awesome.”

The Sabers’ Aizeah Lakalaka runs the bases with Landon Diego-Borje, 6.

He smiled as he watched Zach play catch and throw pitches to the youngsters in attendance.

“You hope as a dad and as a coach that they continue to do this and give back to the community, it’s such a great cause,” Chuck Dando said. “What they don’t know being so young is how much they’re impacting these young athletes that are out here today.”

Maui High freshman Chris Mata was having fun with the kids.

“It warms my heart a lot,” Mata said. “These kids, they don’t really know much about baseball and for us to teach them, it’s really great.”

Mata said the clinic had taken his mind off his own suspended season.

Maui High coach Chase Corniel works with a young player.

“It does actually, it does a lot for me,” Mata said. “Because we help these kids and it just takes our minds off of it. And then when the season comes, we just get back to work.”

For Chase Corniel, Saturday’s event was a labor of love.

“Just to give back to the children with disabilities,” said Corniel, who is also a vice principal at Maui High. “You know my son Ezra has disabilities as well and how it’s dear to my heart to help as a baseball coach. To use that as a tool to basically help this foundation with support from Valley Isle Fencing and TJ’s Warehouse, it is definitely a good thing for the parents on Maui to feel supported.”

Ezra was a bit distracted early in the day with all that was going on around him, but later in the clinic he was hitting and catching baseballs with everyone else.

“It’s important for me to introduce baseball to him, in any way, shape or form, be it in the youth levels or even this clinic,” Chase Corniel said. “We want to make sure that he enjoys it as well.”

Yagi

Chase Corniel said the entire event would not have happened without Regina Corniel.

“My wife has been amazing, and I love her and I thank her for her support,” he said. “She’s the biggest advocate for Ezra. Myself, too, as an advocate, we want to support Ezra in whatever he wants to do as far as his needs.”

Ezra has been growing quickly — he looked and sounded like any other 4-year-old, running around with a baseball cap on Saturday.

“The great thing about this is we have support all around,” Chase Corniel said, adding that speech pathologist Brooke Anderson has been instrumental in Ezra’s progress.

The Sabers stood together as a family as well on Saturday, led by their coach.

“It’s important,” Chase Corniel said. “I think giving back to the community is part of being an athlete. And to understand, you know, that there’s bigger things than baseball. Life comes into play and you’re basically there to help them and support them.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.