County loosens restrictions, but youth sports still feeling the squeeze

Mayor Mitch Roth loosened restrictions Monday, increasing the limit for sports participants at outdoor county facilities to 25, but two youth organization presidents weren’t celebrating, at least not yet.

“It’s not a green light, it’s a yellow light that is hanging sideways,” said Jonathan Walsh, president of the Big Island Hawaii Youth Soccer Association.

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The club soccer organization and Big Island Pop Warner football each were gearing up to hold seasons until Roth, aiming to curb the surge of COVID-19 cases on the island in late August, reduced the limit to 10.

Since then, Big Island Pop Warner president Kapua Francisco said his organization has been holding practices and conditioning while following “drastic limitations.” Francisco said Pop Warner would need the limit to be raised to 75 in order to hold games, but he was hopeful he could work with the county to hold competitions in the near future while complying with safety rules.

“I think the community is speaking loud and clear that they want the kids to play,” Francisco said.

Citing a reduction in the spread of the virus, a release announcing the increased limit says the county’s 18th emergency rule “also creates a mechanism for sporting organizers to apply for special event exemptions to allow for gathering sizes above the limit of 25 for organized sports, which includes spectators, pending proper COVID-19 mitigation protocols.”

Walsh said he was told the exemption process would take 30 days to get approved, which, even if accepted, might be too late for HYSA to hold a fall season. His organization, which has 1,200 participants, he said, held competition earlier during the pandemic when the gathering size limit was 50.

The club soccer season has been ongoing on Oahu for six weeks, Walsh said.

“The story is we are not following the state guidelines, (the county is) going out on its own,” he said, “though when you look at the (COVID) numbers, they are identical.”

“We have players flying to Oahu to play. They are playing full-on games, and families can watch in groups, if they have masks on and follow other rules.”

Francisco said Big Island Pop Warner is behind the rest of the state as well.

“Oahu doesn’t have any teams, but they are playing on Maui and Kauai,” he said. “We can still have a season if we get started soon.”

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The American Youth Soccer Organization also has been limited to practices in groups of late, but Hilo AYSO regional head Joy Memmer said the loosened restrictions would allow for small-sided matches to be held this month.

According to the Department of Health on Monday, the seven-day average of daily new cases per 100,000 on the Big Island (24.8) was higher than the rest of the state (18.3). It was 17.8 in Honolulu, 21.9 on Kauai and 12.0 on Maui. Last week and for much of September, the county rates were closer in range.

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