Ready to go

Sabers, Bears can’t hide excitement as practices resume across MIL

Baldwin High School football players warm up with lunges at their on-campus practice field Monday afternoon during their first practice since the resumption of athletics across the Maui Interscholastic League. The Maui News / DAKOTA GROSSMAN photo

KAHULUI — The smile on Zach Dando’s face really said it all.

Practices resumed in the Maui Interscholastic League across the board on Monday, and the Maui High School senior wide receiver/place kicker/safety could hardly contain his enthusiasm.

“I mean it feels great to finally be back out here,” Dando said. “We got back out here and everything was going well, but then it was unfortunate, everything that happened. It looks like we have a lot of guys out here, ready to go. So, I think we’re going to have a good season.”

Dando, who is also a standout baseball player for the Sabers, has been without sports for 20 months due to COVID-19 shutting down activity in the MIL.

Monday was the resumption of practice after the state Department of Education paused sports on Aug. 4 to allow time for all players, coaches and volunteers to get vaccinated for COVID-19 under the DOE decree, or have an approved exemption for medical or religious reasons.


“Personally, I’m just ready, we’ve been putting in a lot of work in school, just having to stay up on our grades, especially with COVID and being online school,” Dando said. “So, just to finally make it all worth it, it just feels good.”

Dando did not have much doubt that Monday would arrive, the day when MIL sports started up again.

“I’ve been waiting,” he said. “There was a little doubt, but ultimately I felt like we had to have sports at some point, so I was just waiting on it.”

Dando peered out at the 50 Sabers around him on the school’s practice field and smiled some more.

“We’re going to be great,” Dando said. “We have all the pieces that we need. As long as we listen to our coaches and we work hard and we just execute what we need to do, we’re going to make it out.”

Maui High coach Robert Dougherty talks as players take a knee during a Sabers practice Monday. The Maui News / ROBERT COLLIAS photo

Monday was a resumption of the first season for Maui High head coach Robert Dougherty and staff.

“I love coach Dougherty,” Dando said. “He’s very open to new things. He always just wants to make everybody better, try new things, getting out there. It’s a new day for Maui High football.”

Coby Wakayama, a 5-foot-8, 170-pound senior running back/outside linebacker, was also more than enthused to be back on the practice field.

“Oh, it feels great,” Wakayama said. “We had doubts if we were going to have a season or not, but today shows that it’s going to happen. There had to be doubts because we got shut down and all this crazy stuff happened, yeah, there was doubt.”

Wakayama said the atmosphere in school is upbeat with the return of practice. The Maui High girls volleyball team was busy in the Shine Matsui Athletic Center, and the air riflery teams were also busy on the school’s tennis courts Monday afternoon.


“Everyone’s glad to be back, excited,” Wakayama said. “This team can be really good. We had a lot more guys than I thought we were going to have, lot of potential, very young team.”

Dougherty was also enthused with what he saw on the Sabers’ practice field.

“It feels great,” Dougherty said. “There’s some unknowns and we’re trying to reevaluate again because we’ve got kind of a whole different team. So, we’ve got to just go through the process again, but we’re excited because the kids are excited.”

At Baldwin’s practice field, the atmosphere was also upbeat. The Bears welcomed 32 players to the first day back, and head coach Pohai Lee expects that number to grow as the week goes on.

“It feels great, the kids, I can tell there’s a light in their eye, excited to get going,” he said.

Baldwin players charge the field for their first official football practice since early August on Monday. The Maui News / DAKOTA GROSSMAN photo

Lee said that 26 of his players at practice on Monday were varsity-level players from before the shutdown. Baldwin is one of several teams in the MIL that appear doubtful to field a junior varsity team.

“That’s definitely one of the question marks for us,” Lee said. “After this week, we should have a better idea because after this week I believe tryouts will be done, so we’ll have a better picture after that and then we’ll count up the numbers.”

Lee acknowledged that there are some advantages to having one team.

“There are some, you know, the terminology is always going to be the same, they’re going to get that and it’ll carry through to next year,” he said. “I would say them learning from the older guys, freshmen from the juniors, seniors, upperclassmen, that’s an advantage. And just the sheer energy of the young kids, they’re ready to go and anxious to learn, so that’ll be something new for us.”

Lee said this season is unique in his long career.

“Like we said, it takes its toll, you get started, you stop again for seven weeks and then come back, so a lot of adversity, but again the main things is just getting guys out on the field and getting going,” he said. “So, that’s what we’re looking forward to.”

Lee, like his players, was just happy to be at practice again. The unknowns of the talent the Bears have is part of that enthusiasm.

“I’m excited to find out, I can’t wait to see,” he said. “I know the other guys, the core guys are out here, which is encouraging, but again it’s kind of wait and see.”

Veteran Baldwin assistant coach Rodney Figueroa anticipates that the Bears are ready to roll.

“Very excited, you know, everybody has been waiting, we lost that one year,” Figueroa said. “Everybody is excited to get going, we’re just waiting to see what our numbers will be. … We’ve never encountered a season like this and we just have to work our way through this pandemic that we’re going through.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com.


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