Oudoor practice fields reopen, some games to follow; Kim designates July 20 for return of competition

There is one less excuse to get out and hit the practice field.

Organized outside team workouts are a go and the first games on the Big Island could be fewer than four weeks away under Mayor Harry Kim’s latest emergency rule, announced Thursday. The proclamation was highly awaited and cleared an important hurdle toward the return of sports competition during the COVID-19 pandemic. It remains to be seen, however, whether many summer events still can be salvaged.

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For now, the rule doesn’t affect high schools sports; the Hawaii High School Athletic Association has suspended practices, pending a weekly review, and has targeted August reinstatements. In addition, county gymnasiums and covered play court facilities remain closed, including Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium and Edith Kanaka‘ole Multipurpose Stadium. Wong Stadium also is closed.

Teams participating in sports “traditionally played at outdoor venues,” including football, can practice as long as the group, including coaching and staff, is capped at 35. Social distancing guidelines must be followed to the “maximum extent practicable,” and groups must be separated by at least 20 feet.

The second phase kicks in July 20 and allows for competitions between two teams, however, “close-contact” sports such as football, rugby, basketball and combat sports are excluded. County pools may reopen July 13.

Youth baseball has been one of the summer sports affected by the shutdown. Big Island PONY Baseball president Wayne Yamauchi said his organization already had set Friday as its deadline for determining whether play should be suspended until its winter league. While the reopening of practices may be timely, Yamauchi said much would need to figured out before PONY baseball is played this summer.

“A lot of kids have already dropped out, and there are parents who don’t not want their kids to play,” Yamauchi said. “What about umpires? Are we going to have enough?”

He also wondered whether organizations would need to designate a representative to be present solely to make sure that social guidelines are being practiced.

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“There is a lot that goes into to this,” Yamauchi said.

Joy Memmer, the regional commissioner for Hilo’s American Youth Soccer Association chapter, said the annual Volcano International Soccer tournament, scheduled for mid-July at Hilo Bayfront already had been canceled. However, four AYSO United teams will practice for a potential Hawaii Youth Soccer Association seeding tournament, which could be held in July on the Big Island.

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