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Pandemic a test of patience for student-athletes

DAKOTA GROSSMAN Running Mate

These past 18 months have been the ultimate test of patience and resilience as student-athletes wait for the resumption of their sports seasons amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some continue to train while others have decided to throw in the towel.

First came the canceled Maui Interscholastic League seasons, then it became a waiting game, and then hope for a mostly normal 2021-22 slate, only to be notified at the last minute that competition and practices were postponed once again until Sept. 24 after the Hawaii State Department of Education announced that vaccination for COVID-19 would be required to play sports for public school students.

I know these kids are ready to play despite the hurdles, but at the same time, it’s only natural that “COVID fatigue” is setting in.

As a member of the running community, former collegiate athlete, sports reporter, assistant coach and family to those involved in sports, I hear and see the frustrations.

In recent articles and conversations, coaches have said that they anticipate smaller rosters in the fall due to the prolonged time away from their sport or obstacles created by the vaccine mandate.

Students at King Kekaulike have told me that several players from various sports won’t be joining their teammates this time around either.

My colleague Rob Collias had also reported last month that a few Lahainaluna football players estimated that about half of their team’s seniors weren’t planning on playing.

“It was difficult deciding on whether or not to compete,” said Kaimana Cantere, a senior track and cross country runner for Maui High who had nearly decided not to compete his final year. “A lot of people don’t like the idea of (vaccinations) being forced on us and not being able to do something like a sport or a club that we’ve been doing our whole high school years.”

Though they miss team camaraderie and competition, his fellow student-athletes have been “feeling stressed” over the ongoing challenges and saying “it’s unfair.”

“I can tell it’s really affecting them,” he said.

If it was me in their shoes, back in high school just wanting to compete in my Spartans uniform but constantly confronted with cancellations and rule changes, I’d be feeling the same way.

“Since it’s my last year, I want to run it no matter what, but it was a really hard decision for me to even get vaccinated,” said Cantere, adding that he had consulted with trusted sources like his doctor, parents and friends before making a decision. “I didn’t train all this time for nothing.”

If the MIL season does resume, “I don’t care how short the season is as long as we get to race, I’m happy with that,” he said.

“A lot of it has to do with the rules and stuff, being vaccinated just makes everything easier,” said Sabers basketball and baseball player Luke Alwood, who got vaccinated prior to a Mainland showcase trip in July, which helped him land a baseball scholarship to Seattle University.

In addition to health and safety, Alwood said he believes about 75 percent of the student-athletes he knows will be vaccinated just so they can play, and “I think that’s all right.”

But even after vaccinations are completed and other health and safety protocols are implemented, will we even have sports? Especially as we’re seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases, with the state Department of Health reporting a single-day high on Sunday?

Time will only tell. Honestly, I’m 50-50 on there being a season at all.

Seabury Hall’s Kaylee Volner said it best when she told Collias that “there was a little bit of a ‘here we go again’ feeling” when the DOE’s vaccination mandate put fall sports on pause. I think we’re all getting a little anxious that another delay could be on the horizon.

Still, myself and many others hope that come Sept. 24, the sports community will be in the clear to host and participate in athletic events with fans in the stands. Although a lot of uncertainty remains, all we can do is try to stay motivated and positive.

* Dakota Grossman is at dgrossman@mauinews.com

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