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‘Nothing can stop us from doing what we love’

Several Lunas work out on their own during pause, say players split on vaccinations

Lahainaluna High School football players Shaun Kana (from left), Christian Clarion and David Hong pose for a photo while working out with teammates Tuesday at the Lahaina Recreation Center field. KEAWE KANE-KEAHI photo

The Lahainaluna High School football program did not win four straight Hawaii High School Athletic Association Division II state titles without having a plan for everything.

Now, with coaches not allowed to have contact with their players, a nucleus of about 20 Lunas upperclassmen have taken things into their own hands.

The Maui Interscholastic League is paused for the state Department of Education edict that all public school student-athletes, coaches and volunteers be vaccinated for COVID-19 — or have a valid medical or religious exemption — but the core of Lahainaluna’s football team is working out on their own time.

“Yes, we (the players) do our own weight training and conditioning,” Lahainaluna junior David Hong texted to The Maui News on Wednesday. “Us as a team decided that since we couldn’t have coaches train us, that we would take the initiative into our own hands and stay in shape together. To prepare and maintain our bodies for the upcoming season, also to maintain the strength and conditioning that we worked for when we were practicing.”

The DOE halted practices on Aug. 4, but Hong and several seniors have organized informal practices since that date.

“I would say like a solid 20 of the boys come out … every weekday at the Lahaina rec center,” Hong texted. “But I forgot to mention that although we do this training, we also do it as a statement to everyone, that no matter how much challenges are thrown at our team or athletes in general nothing can stop us from doing what we love.”

Hong, a 5-foot-11, 195-pounder who plans to line up at linebacker, defensive end and fullback, will seek a religious exception to the vaccine mandate that would require him to be tested for COVID-19 twice a week.

“I’m going to try and get the exemption and test … but I’m not getting vaccinated, no,” Hong said via phone on Tuesday before one of the informal workouts. “I will get tested as much as I need to. My family is very religious, so it’s more of a religion thing than it is of going against the state type of thing.”

Hong said that there is a group of Lahainaluna seniors who had been with the team before the mandate who are not coming to the workouts and who have decided to step away from the game.

“I see it as a pretty even mix of boys that are vaccinated and boys that aren’t going to and other boys that are planning on getting vaccinated,” Hong said. “It’s pretty much even. The kids that are planning to get vaccinated and the kids that are already vaccinated is, like, together a little bit more than half the team.”

Hong added that “most of our seniors think that it’s super unfair that they’re forcing it on everyone and our seniors are pretty upset about it. So, to take a stand they decided that they are going to sit out, some of the seniors.

“The majority of the people that are sitting out are seniors. I think I’m going to miss them a lot because we grew up together, we played football together since we were young. For them to leave their last year of high school without football, it seems pretty unfair.”

Shaun Kana is a senior defensive back/running back for the Lunas. He received the vaccination soon after “it became a big thing because I had a job, a summer job and I worked with tourists. My mom was kind of worried about that so she made me get the vaccination if I wanted to keep working. I’m fully vaccinated.”

Kana said he was drained of energy for one day after the second dose of his vaccine, but he felt little other side effects.

Now, he hopes his senior football season starts up again on Sept. 27, the date practice is slated to begin again.

“I was super excited for my senior year, but I think it’s super unfortunate that they are making all these rules that not everyone can play unless they get vaccinated or checked up,” Kana said. “I was very excited to play. It’s my last year. I don’t see a future in football, but I know this is going to be the last time I get suited up, so I just wanted to make the most of it. I do plan on playing.”

Kana added, “I know a lot of seniors aren’t going to play this year because of that (mandate). We had to just keep starting over because they kept resetting us. … It’s kind of frustrating when you have to start back from the beginning.”

Kana said he understands his classmates’ decisions to play or not.

“I was kind of mad about it because it’s our last year and I wanted all of us to play, but it is their decision to get vaccinated or not,” Kana said. “I think most of them are not playing because we’re just not practicing as much right now. Maybe if we kept practicing every day and that was, like, legal or allowed then I think everyone would have played.

“Since they kept resetting us it just makes everyone frustrated.”

Kana estimated that half of the senior class is currently leaning towards not getting the vaccination to play, but that trend is changing.

“We’ve been talking to them at school and we’ve been trying to talk to them back into coming,” Kana said. “They’re being kind of iffy about it, but at first it was a solid ‘no, I’m not playing.’ Now, we’re trying to convince them, so they’re kind of like 50-50 with it.”

Christian Clarion is a senior running back/outside linebacker who got his first dose of the vaccine two weeks ago and is scheduled to receive his second shot next week.

“I got it because of the sports mandate,” Clarion said. “It means a lot, I have been playing football since I was really young and all that, so it actually means a lot to me.”

Clarion said the Lahainaluna football season is also important for the West Maui community.

“It would make me really happy,” Clarion said. “The community is so close together, like, everybody knows each other a lot. We need to bring back another (state championship) trophy, like, as a team.”

Lahainaluna, which is moving up to Division I this year, will carry an MIL football-record 25 straight league wins into the season, dating back to the final game of the 2016 season.

“I feel like we can go all the way,” Clarion said. “We’ve been really putting in the work, I think we’ve been putting in more work than other teams. We’re a step ahead, so we’re still working out by ourselves without the coaches. We’re putting in the extra work and all that.

“We want to encourage the younger guys to come out, too. We need the bodies and everybody wants playing time, so ‘it’s your chance, put in the extra work.’ The boys are excited just to get back out there.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.

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