For Hawaii’s student-athletes, it was a year of canceled seasons and lost opportunities

For Hawaii’s student-athletes, it was a year of lost seasons and lost opportunities

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The pandemic didn’t just close schools. It canceled organized sports, triggering a ripple effect for countless high school student-athletes.

At Kahuku High, it’s been more than a year since a game (or a practice) was held on campus. It’s the same story for stadiums across the state.

For student-athletes, that’s meant lost seasons ― and lost opportunities. Some moved away to be able to participate in sports. Others created their own opportunities in reaching out to colleges.

For everyone, it was an era of frustration, helplessness and uncertainty.

[This story is part of a week-long series from HNN, “The Pandemic: A Year with Coronavirus,” exploring where Hawaii is and where it’s headed a year after the pandemic started. Click here for details.]

It has also been a period of big ups and downs. The Kahuku Red Raiders entered the fall of 2020 thinking a season would happen in at least some capacity.

”We were working and aiming towards a season in the event that we’ll be able to play when all this passes. One year later, we’re still here,” said Kahuku head football Coach Sterling Carvalho.

After holding out hope for months, the OIA snuffed any chance of football in January. For Carvalho, the most agonizing aspect was not being able to provide any clarity on a season.

“We teach them the principles of life, so when they come to you for answers, that’s the very frustrating part because you want to be there for them,” Carvalho said.

Hawaii’s football seniors tried their best to wait it out, but could only stick around for so long.

Since the fall, a number of players have moved to the mainland to play in states with relaxed restrictions, including Utah, Idaho, and Washington.

Kahuku had seven transfer out of state, including standouts Zion Ah You and Zealand Matagi. They both left for a four-game spring season in Washington, just to get on the radar of college scouts.

”Being a senior at Kahuku meant everything and being able to play for the Kahuku Red Raiders to finish off my last year, kind of meant everything to me,” said Matagi.

Added Ah You: ”We just wanted to play and get some film to put out of ourselves playing football because me and Zealand, it’s our last year so we needed something.”

Football certainly wasn’t the only sport ensnared by the pandemic.

Kaiser High senior catcher Brock Perreira had big plans for his final year after seeing his junior campaign axed two-games in.

”I was supposed to get all my film collected this season, get it out to all the scouts and hopefully, be committed at the end of the season as well,” Perreira said.

He also considered moving away and even explored transferring to a private school.

With limited options, Perreira charted his own path and got on the field through summer tournaments in Texas and Florida through his Hawaii travel team. In lieu of in-person visits with college and major league scouts, he put everything on tape, including all of his workouts.

“I had my mom and my sister on both camera angles,” he said. “I had maybe two of my friends. one throwing to me and maybe one standing at a base that I could throw to and then they just get all the angles. I had to maybe get three or four perfect ones so I could send that one out.”

That work paid off as Perreira eventually landed an offer from Cal State Bakersfield.

Kamehameha Schools softball player Kenna Higa had her own setbacks on the recruiting trail. She had to sit out her junior season after transferring to Kapalama from Roosevelt.

She has yet to play an official game for the Warriors, so with limited video from summer tournaments and home workouts, she personally reached out to colleges across the country.

“For high schoolers, especially in their junior or sophomore years, it’s a bit critical because this is a time where you have to get out there, send emails, travel, talk to coaches, all that kind of stuff,” Higa said.

“That opportunity has been taken from a lot of kids.”

Higa will be continuing her career at Norfolk State in Virginia.

She and Perreira are among the countless high school student athletes heading to college without getting an official visit.

It’s a recruiting process that’s very different to the one before the pandemic.

Hawaii native Ikaika Malloe is currently the co-defensive coordinator for the Washington Huskies.

He’s been coaching college football for the last 24 years, often recruiting in Hawaii. Scouting high school prospects is typically a gamble, even more so when you take away in-person observation.

“When you’re watching things on social media, it’s probably 10 to 15 clips of their best plays,” he said. “What hurts us is you don’t get to see the 105 other plays that might expose them a little bit.”

Malloe recruited multiple players to Washington who didn’t even set foot on campus and due to relaxed NCAA transfer rules, he envisions a flood of transfers around the nation once students actually see their schools.

Carvalho said the pandemic has been a teachable moment, underscoring the importance of athletes advocating for themselves.

“A lot of parents are doing that now, advocating for their players, their kids,” he said. “So I think that’s what ‘s gonna happen with recruiting. “We have to be more proactive.”

Higa put it this way: “Nothing can stop you if you really want it. Work hard and don’t ever stop.”

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