Mayor: Willing to work with MIL on fans

Baldwin High School players celebrate a first-quarter defensive touchdown against Lahainahuna during an MIL football game on Aug. 31, 2019 at Sue Cooley Stadium. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER file photo

With practices in the Maui Interscholastic League scheduled to resume in less than two weeks, some key decisions are looming for Maui County sports.

Mayor Michael Victorino spoke exclusively with The Maui News on Monday morning via phone about the county’s positions on the MIL, the Maui Jim Maui Invitational college basketball tournament and the Sentry Tournament of Champions golf tournament, all of which are scheduled to take place in the next four months.

All are under discussion with county officials and each is a different type of challenge for the county to deal with under the current COVID-19 case load situation.

When asked about fans in the stands at MIL football games, Victorino said, “I really don’t know what the MIL will decide because that is from the state side. So, for the county, I said no fans in our facilities for right now. Our facilities, not state facilities, although I believe there are vaccination mandates to utilize state facilities.

“There’s a whole bunch of rules out there that are floating around, which I understand makes it a little confusing for the public. However, the ultimate goal for all of us is to see our numbers start to drop and to level off, yeah.”

Kansas’ Udoka Azubuike dunks during overtime of the Jayhawks’ win over Dayton in the Maui Jim Maui Invitational championship game on Nov. 27, 2019 at Lahaina Civic Center. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER file photo

Last week, Victorino unveiled his “Safer Outside” initiative, where restaurants and bars will close early, no spectators will be allowed at sporting events, and proof of vaccination will be required at restaurants, bars and gyms.

Victorino unveiled a portion of the initiative at last Tuesday’s county news conference but said more details need to be worked out and would be shared at a later date.

The approved emergency rules are set to go into effect on Wednesday.

The MIL, as well as all other leagues with state Department of Education schools, paused on Aug. 4 and the DOE announced a mandate that all student-athletes, coaches and volunteers must be fully vaccinated to resume by Sept. 24. There are medical and religious exemptions to the mandate that require two negative COVID tests per week.

Although the MIL has not yet released its updated schedules for fall sports, football games are expected to begin on Oct. 15. The Safer Outside policies are set to be reevaluated that same day.

Justin Thomas walks toward his ball after a great chip from a tough lie on Kapalua Plantation Course’s 18th hole en route to winning the Sentry Tournament of Champions in a playoff on Jan. 5, 2020. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER file photo

“We want sports to continue, I’m all in (for) letting the kids play,” Victorino said. “And if I can ensure that their safety and well-being and having their time out there in the sun, and playing, practicing and if the parents have to sacrifice a little, that’s all I’m asking at this point, just a little time — 30 days, let’s see where we’re at.”

The only county facility that is used for MIL football is War Memorial Stadium, which was slated to host eight of the 20 games on the MIL schedule released before the current pause.

King Kekaulike Stadium and Sue Cooley Stadium on King Kekaulike and Lahainaluna high school campuses, respectively, are state-run facilities. Kanaiaupuni Stadium on Kamehameha Maui’s campus is a private facility.

“As far as the state, MIL and DOE, that’s really their call, especially when it comes to state facilities — many of our schools play in their own high school stadiums when it comes to football,” Victorino said of fans in the stands. “So it would be their decision.”

Asked specifically about fans in War Memorial Stadium, Victorino said: “At this juncture I would say it will really be, again, discussions with the MIL and the DOE because even though it is a county facility, we gave them care, trust and control of the facility. So, I would sit down and work with them to see where we’re at when we are talking about these games.

War Memorial Stadium is the only county facility used for MIL football. County of Maui Shane Tegarden photo

“Because, again, hopefully by the middle of October and if everything stays lower we can lift some of these restrictions and you could have a game in there. … We would be more receptive to the idea if they have a plan and they would like to share it with us, we’d consider looking at that plan.”

Victorino said whether or not the Maui Jim Maui Invitational takes place as scheduled Nov. 22-24 at the Lahaina Civic Center, a county facility, should be decided this week.

“I will know no later than this Friday what is going to occur next,” Victorino said. “We’re in discussions — with the current numbers, they want certain guarantees for which we’re working on right now.

“And once those guarantees are brought forward, because I don’t want to say anything until we’ve finalized everything, they will decide whether they return or they do like they did last year and have the Maui Invitational somewhere else.”

The LCC capacity is annually expanded to 2,400 for the Maui Invitational, which will have Texas A&M, Wisconsin, Butler, Houston, Chaminade, Oregon, St. Mary’s and Notre Dame in its field this year.

Last year, the tournament was held in Asheville, N.C., due to COVID-19 concerns.

“The Maui Invitational having a couple thousand people in a small, confined gym is a recipe for some real challenges,” Victorino said. “So I’m not willing to accept the capacities that they’ve been asking (for) and I will just leave it at that. We are still negotiating and I would rather not talk about that.”

The Sentry Tournament of Champions, a PGA Tour event for tournament winners in the 2021 calendar year, is set to be played Jan. 6-9, 2022 at the Kapalua Plantation Course. The fact that the golf tournament is played outdoors makes it much easier to allow fans, Victorino said.

“Most of it is outdoors, they are willing to do physical distancing, whatever, wearing of masks and making it mandatory for the tournament,” Victorino said of the Sentry TOC. “And that’s still in January of next year, so I mean three months doesn’t seem like a long way away, but you and I know both know the way time moves. It’ll be here very quickly.”

Victorino added that outdoor events have much better chances to proceed as scheduled.

“Any indoor event will be looked upon very differently by myself and my executive team,” Victorino said. “Our medical experts really do say that when you’re indoors there’s a much higher probability of contraction versus outdoors, especially if you can physically distance and I think the MIL has a plan to do something like that, wearing of masks and all this other stuff.

“Again, I want to see a plan before I comment any further, but I’m willing to work with them, like with everything else. With the parents that have called me, I’ve said, ‘I’m not stopping sports in any way, shape or form.’ … I have to side on the side of caution if numbers start to increase, positivity rates start to increase and finally if our death rates start to increase — I have to take action, I cannot just sit back and say, ‘Let’s see what happens.’ “

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com


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