Soccer to return faster than some other sports on the Big Island

Hawaii County’s reopening calender says it’s game time, and that’s truer in some sports than others.

While the three diamonds at Walter Victor complex were empty during a sunny Tuesday afternoon, the field next to St. Joseph School was again teaming with youth soccer players.

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The scene at both sites could become a trend.

Phase 2 of Mayor Harry Kim’s last emergency rule regarding COVID-19 opened the door for certain organized outdoor competitions to resume Monday, but the heads of the island’s two predominant youth baseball organizations said play appears to have been shut down until the fall.

District 4 Little League coordinator Eugene Narimatsu said Hilo and Ka’u joined West Side and North Hawaii in canceling their seasons, while Gold Coast Softball remained undecided on a final plan “of standards that would ensure parents that everyone is safe.”

Hilo, Narimatsu said, was focusing on a fall season that would begin in September, and that appears to be the route PONY League teams are taking as well.

After Kim’s June 25 rule allowed practices to resume the next day, Big Island PONY president Wayne Yamauchi said a handful of teams expressed interest in trying to play a shortened season. But the logistics may make it too tough.

“I don’t think we’re going to play until fall,” Yamauchi said. “We’re only allowed to use one field at Walter Victor at a time, and we’re not allowed to hold a concession. We’d have to play one game, clean up, spray the field and the next hour start another game.

“We’re not going to have a season right now, and we still have the winter league to think about.”

The Hawaii Youth Soccer Association, meanwhile, is gearing up for its return to competition this weekend with matches at St. Joe and Parker Ranch. Big Island HYSA president Jonathan Walsh said he’s been pleased with how teams have followed COVID-19 guidelines since returning to practice – coaches must wear masks – but he stressed “games will not look like they did before the (pandemic).”

“We won’t have as many teams because not as many kids were interested in playing, which is understandable,” Walsh said. “We’re more spread out. We’ll have one game at St. Joe, and then another will start on the other side of the field.”

He would have preferred to hold a portion of HYSA’s opening weekend at Hilo Bayfront, which offers more fields and a better opportunity to space out competitions, but he said he was rebuffed by the county. Kim’s proclamation allows for groups of up to 35 individuals to be involved, and even though Walsh expressed he could meet that threshold, he said he was told by the county the earliest he could receive a permit was July 31.

Although he said he’s had positive discussions with Maurice Messina, an executive assistant to Kim, Walsh said, “It really seems as if the county doesn’t want to reopen the park space.”

As it is, three younger club age groups will take to the pitch Saturday at St. Joe and Parker Ranch for pre-qualifying tournaments, and Sunday the 19-and-under and 16U divisions will start their seasons. Family members and those in attendance must wear masks and tents aren’t allowed, though Walsh said guidelines for spectators are comparable to those getting ready for a day at the beach.

“Everyone has to be in a family bubble like at the beach,” he said. “I think everyone is excited to be back on the field, so hopefully everyone is excited to follow the rules. We’ll see.”

Basketball was among the sports given the go-ahead to hold outdoor practices and competitions, but the fact that county Parks and Recreation gymnasiums remain closed has effectively shut down most if not all organized team activities.

“Everything is still closed for us,” Hoop Dreams coach Randy Apele said, “and I haven’t heard of any others that have gotten going.”

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In addition to the weather being a detriment to using outdoor courts, Apele said it’s hard to reserve time to practice given the limited space. Apele said he’s been given no indication when the gyms might reopen.

“I have a reservation for an end-of-season tournament scheduled in August at a county gym, and I was told that it’s highly unlikely that it will be open,” he said.

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