‘Clarification’ leads to little clarity in MIL’s attempt to secure facilities

Between the Lines

There’s a lot of confusion right now about the situation going on pertaining to the use of the two main sports stadiums in Maui County, War Memorial Stadium and Maehara Stadium.

It was Ichiro “Iron” Maehara himself, the namesake of the baseball stadium in War Memorial Complex, who told me decades ago that the stadiums he was instrumental in getting built in the early 1970s were made primarily for the county’s youth to use.

Satoki Yamamoto Track & Field Facility inside War Memorial Stadium is also named after a deceased legend of Maui County sports.

Yamamoto and Maehara must be shaking their heads right now in sports heaven at all the consternation going on over the use of the facilities named after them.

We ran a story on Friday that the Maui Interscholastic League had been unsuccessful — at least so far — in getting their permits approved for use of each stadium for a hoped-for spring sports season.

The MIL submitted permits recently to the county Parks and Recreation Department in the tri-annual permitting process in time for the county-mandated deadline.

Those permits were not granted.

After the word “denied” was used in the lede and headline of the story, reaction has been a lot more consternation.

The stadiums are currently closed by the county, and officials said permits are not being processed right now, therefore the officials said the permits were not “denied.”

The first paragraph of the release from the county Thursday night — that was not in the paper — said this: “Decision-making for the possible cancellation of spring MIL athletic events rests with the League and the state Department of Education, not the County of Maui.”

To be clear, The Maui News has never printed anything to the contrary of this statement. Ever since the cancellation of fall and winter sports earlier this month, the county has tried to emphasize the separation between itself and the MIL. The fact is, however, that without the use of county facilities such as War Memorial and Maehara, a return of high school sports is extremely difficult, if not impossible.

The second paragraph said this: “The League has access to state-owned and privately owned facilities that can be used as alternatives to War Memorial Stadium and Maehara Stadium, which are under County of Maui jurisdiction.”

Those facts were very clearly outlined in the Friday story, although none of those facilities come close to the quality and usefulness of the Maehara and Yamamoto venues.

County officials were extremely upset by the wording of the Friday story and headline and have since issued a “clarification” news release on the subject. It was a joint statement from parks director Karla Peters and MIL president Jamie Yap, the principal at Maui High School.

That full release, to make sure that we are “clarifying” everything, reads this way:

“We wish to clarify that the Maui County Department of Parks and Recreation did not deny a permit application from Maui Interscholastic League (MIL) for the use of War Memorial and Maehara Stadiums.

“Both venues are closed due to the ongoing public health crisis.

“The Department and the MIL continue to work together on planning the 2021 spring season. The Department is actively coordinating with the MIL Athletic Directors Council and the MIL Executive Director while awaiting a final decision from the Department of Education regarding spring season athletic activities.

“We continue to collaborate on our shared goal of providing safe recreational opportunities for Maui County’s student athletes.

“Mayor (Michael) Victorino has pledged his full support to advance youth sports while respecting all necessary protocols to protect the health and wellbeing of everyone involved.”

These are some of the facts that make me shake my head.

Sources who spoke with me for the Friday story have since been scolded by officials above them. I personally salute those sources — some of whom were quoted in the story, some who weren’t — for their candidness and courage to tell the truth.

While the stadiums remain closed, other county facilities mere feet away have long since opened back up.

I was at Soichi Sakamoto Pool on Thursday evening to do a story on a swimmer. A youth swim practice was going on at the pool, which is part of the War Memorial Complex. Just a couple hundred yards away, a pair of youth baseball games — with dozens of spectators, including several who were not wearing face coverings — were going on on fields that are also part of the WMC.

The War Memorial tennis courts were one of the first county facilities to reopen, in May, after all county facilities were closed in March by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mayor Victorino issued a news release last month welcoming the possibility of University of Hawaii football playing in War Memorial Stadium in the fall, a possibility that I wholeheartedly support. It would be a special chance for Maui fans and would give much-needed bumps to the economy each game.

That fact, however, makes it pretty vexing that there is any hesitation from county officials to make sure that the high school kids — if needed — can have immediate access to the stadiums, for competitions and practice.

Every sports organization I have talked to in Maui County have had tough goes getting permits approved during this pandemic, which I understand.

However, MIL schedules must be made now. And it appears the league is doing everything it can to secure facilities, with strict health and safety protocols and no spectators.

Certainly, there are questions that remain as to if the MIL spring seasons will be possible, but clearly after the coronavirus halted those same sports in March, everything under the sun should be done to make them possible.

It is certain that they face daunting hurdles from several angles — kids need to be back on campus soon, the DOE and Department of Health must approve the safety plans, COVID-19 case numbers probably need to come down, to name a few — but it doesn’t make sense to throw in any more challenges than necessary.

It feels to me like there’s a lot of these officials from every angle waiting around for some other organization to make a final call before action is taken. Clearly, time is running out on the spring season while fall and winter sports have already been wiped out for this school year.

Let’s hope everyone involved manages to make the right call soon.

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)


Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today