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Prep cancellations deprive student-athletes of opportunities

RUNNING MATE

Tre Rickard of Lahainaluna High School returns a punt during an MIL football game against King Kekaulike on Aug. 24, 2019. The MIL announced Wednesday that all fall and winter sports are canceled for the 2020-21 school year. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

If pieces of my youth or high school athletic career were cut short or canceled, I’d be devastated.

As a former student-athlete, beginning from Haiku Elementary School and all the way through college at the University of Utah, I can confidently say I would not be where I am today without each and every opportunity I had to compete, to train with a team, to fail and get back up again, and to reach my goals.

Thousands of young student-athletes across Hawaii and in our Maui Interscholastic League right now are sitting on the sidelines, missing out on playing time and chances to build skills and character, to create memories, and frankly, to see where their sport takes them in life.

Spring sport athletes did not compete in the 2020 season due to COVID-19, and now the demise of the 2020-21 fall and winter seasons is leaving only an inkling of hope for the remainder of the year. I was hoping that some of the sports could have at least been modified this season, like soccer, cross country, paddling or air riflery.

“It just sucks, I just feel like people don’t understand how it truly feels, I mean I’ve been working for fall and winter sports since last year of March,” said Tre Rickard, a Maui News Maui Interscholastic League first-team All-Star in football and basketball for Lahainaluna High School. “You just work so hard and have it taken away from you, it just really sucks. It’s like seven months of hard work, blood, sweat and tears down the drain.”

Maui High School’s Damon Wakefield (from front), Hunter Shields and Adam Hakola compete at the state cross country championship meet on Nov. 2, 2019 at Seabury Hall. — The Maui News / DAKOTA GROSSMAN photo

Rickard and many others are still looking for answers.

“You let thousands of tourists come back but you don’t let thousands of kids go back to school?” he said. “I’ve been talking to all my teammates, they’re just disappointed. They’re devastated.”

With the increase in coronavirus cases and the postponed start to on-campus learning for public schools, I’m not surprised that state tournaments and interscholastic league seasons were canceled. But I still feel as though the MIL missed an opportunity to take the lead, get creative with alternatives, and set an example for the rest of the state on how to safely host a season.

In the meantime, club baseball, soccer and volleyball are being played here on Maui. I’m seeing other clubs finding their groove like flag rugby, and there’s a possibility for club basketball and running. Though not the same and a lot less competitive — in my opinion — at least it’s something.

Sports are essential, especially during a time like this when many kids are cooped up at home trying to take classes online and where there’s less social interaction due to gathering restrictions.

Rickard and I talked on Friday about how youth and high school athletes are losing motivation and hope as time drags on, and how they need an outlet to release their energy.

They need team camaraderie and mentors to keep them accountable, healthy and out of trouble.

“It’s just a big mess,” he said. “To a lot of kids, sports are essential and you need to let the kids go out and play. They need something to work for.”

Many high school and college athletes I have reached out to over the past few months have expressed to me that they would rather play fanless games and wear a mask than not participate at all.

It’s clear how many hours they spend perfecting their skills and preparing for each MIL season, and how much energy and volunteer work coaches put in. The amount of commitment, discipline and perseverance it takes to be successful requires time, and time is being lost.

“It’s important for the seniors like me to have a season and a chance to compete because we may never do this again,” said Maui High’s Hunter Shields, who won the 2019 MIL and state cross country titles. “For some people, high school sports are the last competitive sports that they will play and for them not to get their last chance to play is just sad.”

I have no doubt Shields could have defended his cross country titles this season if he had the chance. But looking forward, he told me Thursday that he’s still hopeful for a final track and field season since spring sports were cut short last year.

“I think some sports could’ve been modified, but it never would’ve been the same experience as having a normal season,” he said. “I just want one more chance to run a couple races.”

These are also important years for our juniors and seniors looking to compete in college, and need official stats and tape to show what they’re made of.

“I know a lot of seniors who were relying on this year to get film to send to coaches,” Rickard said. “I know a lot of people’s motivation to go to school is for sports and to be eligible to play, and if they’re taking that away from us, then what’s the point?”

Student-athletes have even moved out-of-state in hopes of participating in high school sports and pursuing a collegiate career thereafter.

Former Lunas football standout Devon Sa-Chisolm transferred to Orem High School in Utah to play his senior season before signing with Southern Utah University, something that may not have happened if he stayed on Maui. My cousin Jaxon Grossman transferred out of King Kekaulike due to the uncertainty of the MIL and is playing baseball on the Mainland for his junior and senior years.

My family and I would have definitely relocated if I were in high school right now, no question. Who knows if I would have still earned an athletic scholarship to run for the Utes if my final MIL seasons were canceled?

I see a lot of mixed comments on social media about fall and winter sports getting cut. There’s no definitive right or wrong opinion. All can say is that being a student-athlete opened a realm of possibilities for me — possibilities that are once in a lifetime.

I’m sad that these talented and aspiring athletes won’t have the same chances. I feel for them.

* Dakota Grossman is a dgrossman@mauinews.com

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