Spring fever: 7-sport season features scrimmages and – yes – BIIF play

  • West Hawaii Today file photo Just as he did for Konawaena in the 2019 BIIF playoffs, James Kapela could be delivering pitches Saturday against Hawaii Prep when he plays for a wooden bat league team consisting of players from Honokaa and Konawaena.

Pahoa High’s Hoku Haliniak probably never thought she’d be so cheerful just to be giving a temperature check.

“We have kids on the field!” Haliniak said Thursday in a phone conversation after screening athletes for COVID-19. “Can you hear (the excitement) in my voice?”

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The thought of holding campus practices the past few weeks with the return of Daggers’ athletics on the horizon tends to put a bounce in an athletic director’s step.

The playing field for public schools that feature blended learning was changed when the BIIF’s principals recently elected not to cancel the spring season, according to league president Dean Cevallos.

“It’s really up to the schools (now),” he said, “for them to figure it out amongst themselves.”

For Pahoa’s boys volleyball and softball programs, that means scrimmages amongst other teams in the Ka’u-Keaau-Pahoa Complex Area as well as the return of BIIF competition.

“We’re allowed to call it a BIIF season,” Haliniak said, “but we’re also treating them as scrimmages. No championships, but we’re just trying to get the kids to play as much as we can.”

The Daggers are the only public school listed on an ever-evolving spring schedule being mapped out by Hawaii Prep AD Stephen Perry and Kamehameha AD Kimo Weaver that also includes the island’s other private schools, Christian Liberty, Makua Lani and Parker, as well as club teams – which are not a part of the BIIF play – and runs in conjunction with the Big Island Wood Bat Academy baseball league.

Following a winter season format that was hosted by HPA and Kamehameha, the season starts with baseball and softball games Saturday and it includes seven of the eight traditional spring sports, running into May. Competitions also will be held in tennis, water polo, golf and track and field. Judo was considered a “high-risk” sport by the league, Weaver said, and was not included.

The 2020 spring sports season was the first to be wiped out by the pandemic.

Hilo High and Waiakea High each have students competing on teams in the wooden bat league. However, the schools aren’t allowed to hold campus workouts, much less field teams, because neither uses a blended learning model of instruction, falling short of a key Hawaii Department of Education criteria.

The lone softball matchup Saturday in Waimea features an 11 a.m. doubleheader between a Kailua-Kona club team and Ka Makani. In an 11 a.m. baseball game, a Honokaa-Konawaena team from the wooden bat league faces HPA at 11 a.m., followed by a junior varsity game.

Coach Devin Joaquin said about 60% of his team is from Honokaa High, and though the squad has never held a conventional practice together, he expects them “to ball out.”

“They’ve been playing in the wooden bat league in the fall and winter, and most of these kids have played together,” he said.

“The biggest thing is for the kids to go out there and have fun,” Joaquin said. “A lot of them, they are not going to play again, so they have to go out and enjoy the season.”

That list does not include Konawaena senior infielder Bronson Rivera, who has signed with the University of Hawaii, nor Honokaa junior Justin Birch, who can pitch or play middle infield.

“He’s one to watch,” Joaquin said.

Asked if Birch had aspirations of playing in college, Joaquin said, “He has aspirations of playing in the majors.”

Konawaena’s other two seniors are hard-throwing right-hander James Kapela and Drew Basque. Joaquin has assisted Dragons head coach Lane Yanagisawa in the past, so he’ll have a keen eye on development this season for Honokaa players such as junior Justin Pascua and sophomore Aiden Joaquin, his son.

HPA coach Jeremy Lutvig said his team has had about four weeks of practice heading into a 13-game season, though he’s been working with seniors Nate Heymann and Ikaika Apilado as part of a smaller group for longer than that through physical education classes.

Heymann has signed with Yakima Valley College in Washington.

“(Ikaika’s) looking to sign, and I think these games will give him a much better chance,” Lutvig said.

His first season at the helm of Ka Makani was cut short by the pandemic, but his roster this season has increased from 12 to 17.

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“We have seniors who want to play in college and other seniors we want to give a chance to play,” Lutvig said. “But also, we’ll lose quite a few players and our numbers are pretty low. We have some who haven’t played at all and this will be huge for us and a good chance to watch them develop.

“It’s certainly not all about wins and losses.”