‘Let the kids play:’ BIIF bowling champion ready to defend title, see sports resume

  • Kaula Martin was an all-BIIF softball player in 2019 and added her first BIIF bowling title later in the year. The Kamehameha senior is ready to see high school sports get the green light to proceed. "We are suffering without our sports and, honestly, without school. I don’t know if I’m just thinking of myself, but I really think that sports should come back," she said. (Maui News/Courtesy Photo)

If 2020 were playing by the rules, Kaula Martin might have already contributed to another Kamehameha BIIF softball championship. Right about now, the senior would be starting the process of defending her BIIF bowling championship.

Instead, Martin’s extended softball offseason has reached six months during the COVID-19 pandemic, and she’s not sure when, or if, she’s going to pick up a bowling ball.

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Frankly, Martin is tired of playing by the rules of 2020. Let the kids play, she said, while following the necessary precautions.

“I think that (bowling) should proceed soon and other sports,” Martin said. “But all the rules must still apply with the masks and the social distancing and stuff. But they really need to let the kids play. We are suffering without our sports and, honestly, without school. I don’t know if I’m just thinking of myself, but I really think that sports should come back.

“Sports is our way of letting go, coping with everything that we have to deal with it, and it’s being taken away. So I think that they should bring it back — because ‘#letthekidsplay’ — but we do still need to follow the rules to be safe.”

If 2020 were playing by the rules, Hilo bowling coach Damien Chow would spend part of a practice week with a video session in the classroom, then the Vikings would break out the rubber balls and pins and head to the gym to work on what they’ve learned.

“The kids have a blast,” Chow said.

For once-a-week practices at Kilauea Military Camp and travel to matches at KBXtreme in Kailua-Kona, Hilo hops into a 16-passenger school bus that Chow calls the “bread box.”

Chow’s program and others in East Hawaii were dealt a huge blow in 2014 when Hilo Lanes shuttered, but that was nothing compared to a pandemic.

“I would feel guilty if one of my kids got sick,” he said. “This is not the 24-hour flu, and we are far from getting (the virus) under control.”

The Hawaii High School Athletic Association’s “no-contact” period runs through Sunday, though the governing body could move to extend it when it meets this week, especially with the case count in Hawaii surpassing 10,000. Count Chow in the camp that figures officials may wait to see if classroom learning can begin effectively before giving the green light to extra-curricular activities. The Department of Education is limiting public schools to distance learning through Oct. 2.

“I think that makes sense,” Chow said. “To me, school overrules sports. They have to get to kids in school first.”

Bowling, along with air riflery, was one of the two fall sports spared suspension by the HHSAA. However, even if the no-contact period is lifted soon, Chow sees roadblocks before the Vikings could bowl, as long as the virus remains a threat. For one, transportation would be an issue, since cramming a dozen or so bodies into a 16-passenger school bus might break distance protocols. Though social distancing is easy enough to implement in bowling in theory, Chow pointed out that as many as 12 teams — Kamehameha, Konawaena, Kealakehe, Hilo, Pahoa and Ka’u each fielded boys and girls squads in 2019 – would have to use one facility, KBXtreme.

“The possibility is there, but you’ve got work closely with KBXtreme to see if they are willing to do things to help out,” Chow said. “We’re all in the same building, so it would take only one person to get sick.”

He used to coach his share of “high rollers” when his program was at its strongest point and when Hilo town had a bowling facility. These days he’s focused more on development. If bowling does happen this school year, he’s excited about working with a core group of four boys who contributed last season. If his sport is the only game in town — since football, girls volleyball, cross-country and cheerleading are suspended —he’d be welcome to carrying a bigger roster, provided the transportation concerns could be alleviated.

“I’m coaching a lot of kids of former bowlers I used to have and others who want to take it up as a second sport,” he said.

Martin was successful in that role last year, winning her first individual title in her second season of bowling as Kamehameha’s girls and boys swept the team crowns. Earlier in 2019, she made all-BIIF as the Warriors softball team won its eighth consecutive Division II title. Kamehameha’s attempt at No. 9 was cut down in March after just one game.

“It was a hard thing for all of us to swallow,” said Martin, who also was on a summer team that had its season canceled.

In the meantime, she and her teammates have tried to stay in game shape, some more than others.

“Dioni (Lincoln), that girl is always working,” Martin said. “I’ve been doing little workouts to get me back into shape, as well fielding and hitting to keep me on top of my game.

“It’s hard to find motivation because it seems like it’s over. But I have hope that this season will come back and we get to play one last time.”

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As for bowling, if it happens, she’ll try to follow the same recipe as last season.

“I just let loose and let the ball go where it wants,” Martin said. “I would really like to have (the title) again, because that would just be cool. But I mainly want to have fun because this whole pandemic thing has not been doing us any good, and I just want to have fun.”

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