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Track’s reopening brings enthusiasm, questions

Mayor: Opening of other county facilities, including gyms, under consideration

The Satoki Yamamoto Track & Field Facility inside War Memorial Stadium is now open on a limited basis. — County of Maui / SHANE TEGARDEN photo

The County of Maui announcement Thursday that the Satoki Yamamoto Track & Field Facility inside War Memorial Stadium is now open on a limited basis was met with enthusiasm — and questions about the details — from the Valley Isle track and field community on Friday.

Maui Interscholastic League executive board president Jamie Yap, the principal of Maui High School, said the move by the county is a positive first step.

The status of MIL spring sports, including track and field, is still in question. However another large step toward the goal of conducting a season is set to happen Monday, when several of the Department of Education schools in Maui County welcome students back on campus — in a blended learning plan — for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic nearly a year ago.

“We want to thank the county for working with the MIL to reserve practice facilities in the event that athletics will open,” Yap said Friday. “The return to school for most high schools will be next week Monday, the 22nd, which may lead to the MIL or the public schools to be allowed to have athletics or activities because the goal first is to get kids in school.”

Maehara Stadium, the county baseball facility adjacent to War Memorial Stadium, was not mentioned in the county’s press release on Thursday, but Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino addressed that situation when asked about it by The Maui News during his Friday press conference.

Seabury Hall’s Kaylee Volner (left) runs alongside teammate Kallalei Ryden in the girls 800 meters during an MIL meet at Yamamoto Track & Field Facility on March 10, 2020. — The Maui News / DAKOTA GROSSMAN photo

“These will all open as we see fit to open them up,” Victorino said. “If the MIL has a schedule and thoughts of baseball we will consider opening Iron Maehara Stadium for the purpose of games and some practices. Remember now most of the schools have their own practice fields and their own track.

“It only affects Baldwin, St. Anthony and a couple others that do not have the ability or have a real park to practice in. In fact if I’m correct, Maui High does have a field to practice in, but really not a game field. So we are considering that also.”

Most MIL Division II baseball games on Maui are held at the Maui High field and the Eddie Tam Complex. Besides Yamamoto Track & Field Facility, the only other full track facilities on Maui are at King Kekaulike High School and Kamehameha Schools Maui.

Lahainaluna has a four-lane track on campus and Maui High has a track on campus, but little else needed for the sport to be practiced or meets held.

Victorino said other county facilities are not far away from opening as well.

“We’re also considering looking at our gyms to open by middle to end of March for the purpose of not only practice, but maybe looking at our county leagues, menehune leagues, and all of that,” Victorino said. “We are working slowly, but the numbers will determine what next steps we take.”

Yap said that DOE schools are currently waiting for word on how to proceed from the state Department of Health.

“The Department of Education will give the go with guidance from the Department of Health,” Yap said. “And all of this has to be vetted through the (state) attorney general’s office, so there’s steps in place for the Department of Ed to have everything written down and the expectations so we can all follow the same protocol. What we don’t want to have is different protocols on different islands.”

Thursday’s press release said that MIL teams can practice at the Yamamoto facility from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. While private schools within the MIL are currently open with students on campus, there was no detail given as to when and where they could use the stadium for track practice.

“When I got the news I was excited about it and probably a little bit shocked, I guess, like it was kind of unbelievable that that was happening out of the blue like that,” Seabury Hall girls track and cross country coach Bobby Grossman said. “On the other side I wasn’t real sure what the 3 to 6 thing looks like, what that is because right now there is no MIL.

“So, I’m not sure if we’re supposed to get some kind of club permit or how the process is going to be for us to do that in the future.”

Grossman is nonetheless very encouraged by the county announcement. He immediately called standout Seabury Hall runner Kaylee Volner upon hearing the news.

“I mean, hey, it’s a start, it’s awesome,” he said. “I made a call right away to Kaylee and she was, like, ‘Yippee.’ She’s super excited, just to get an opportunity to go over there and practice and be on the track. It’s just like playing basketball outside and then you get to go in the gym. So, just the feel of it — it’ll be a year in March since we’ve been there. I was kind of emotional, actually.

“We’re doing all these (club) cross country meets right now and you don’t realize how much you miss all the camaraderie and the opportunity that we have.”

Yap said an update to the status for high school spring sports could come early next week with the return to campus for most of the state’s public school students.

Valley Isle Track Club president Jesse Henderson, who is also a head track and field coach at King Kekaulike, said his club is standing by in hopes of holding practices and track meets on Saturdays at the county facility if MIL spring sports season do not happen.

“Anything and everything that opens up and allows these kids to do something is a positive,” Henderson said. “It doesn’t matter what the DOE and the MIL do if we don’t have facilities. We’ve got to start somewhere and to me this is a great start.”

While there are several more hurdles to clear before actual competition begins, Henderson was buoyed by the news.

“Now the schools that don’t have facilities, in theory, can have a place to practice. At least that’s not an obstacle anymore,” he said. “There’s plenty of obstacles out there just trying to get through this and everybody agreeing on everything, but at least that’s not an obstacle, so in my mind that’s a positive thing.

“Any which way you look at it, I just want opportunities for these kids to get out and run. That’s the bottom line.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com

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