Runners break from the starting line at the start of the girls cross country race at the Seabury Hall Invitational on Aug. 24, 2019. Maui Interscholastic League athletic directors are scheduled to hold a meeting Tuesday during which some major decisions could be made regarding high school athletics this school year. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

The calendar has turned, finally, so it’s time to take a deep breath of fresh air, sports fans.

Never have we had as challenging a year in the sports universe as 2020 turned out to be, and there’s plenty of hope that 2021 will see a return to normalcy.

How long that will take is obviously up in the air — as are most things during the COVID-19 pandemic — but Maui gets an early jump on the sports calendar in 2021 when the Sentry Tournament of Champions returns to the Kapalua Plantation Course for its first round on Thursday, as originally scheduled.

“It’s always a cool thing to our event that we are the kickoff to the calendar year,” Sentry TOC Executive Director Alex Urban said Friday. “It’s one of the few PGA Tour events that happens after a little break for our players and our fans, so everyone always gets excited to see the best players in the world get together, especially on a stage like Kapalua.

“So, yeah, we’re super excited to kick off the year. We want to think that everyone is excited about 2021 and the hope and possibility that a new year brings. So, for us to be able to play a small part in that is very exciting.”

The television images for four days on The Golf Channel and NBC will remind the world of just what Maui has to offer, certainly taking a big step towards the economic recovery we all need.

The golf world comes to Hawaii for three weeks — the Sony Open at Waialae Country Club follows the Sentry, and the Mitsubishi Electric Champions Tour event at Hualalai takes place on the Big Island the week after that.

The importance of that statewide commercial boost, showcasing the wonders of the islands, cannot be overstated right now.

Maui is first on the list.

The field is absolutely loaded — the best I can ever recall — with three FedEx Cup champions, 28 of the top 30 from the 2019-20 FedEx Cup standings as well as eight of the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking among the 42 commits announced Friday.

“Locally, people take pride in having something that’s so world class here on the island,” Urban said. “That is something that we don’t take lightly.”

Before the Sentry new year’s present is opened, there is a crucial meeting on Tuesday of Maui Interscholastic League athletic directors.

Or perhaps it will go down as so many others have since the pandemic began — with a waiting legion of parents, student-athletes and coaches being told that not much is happening.

I’ve been informed by some MIL administrators that the meeting will result in some key decisions being made — on schedules and specific sports that will and won’t be played. Others have said that perhaps not much will happen until they get some of the guidance they need from state and county officials.

We’ve been waiting on some — any — of that word to come since March 13, the day the MIL joined the rest of the state in shutting down prep sports.

The Interscholastic League of Honolulu sent a letter on Monday to its schools saying that basketball, bowling, paddling, soccer and wrestling have been canceled for that league due to the pandemic, while air riflery, a modified version of competitive cheer, cross country, swimming and diving, and tennis will be played.

The state’s other four leagues do not have the autonomy that the all-private school ILH does. The MIL and Big Island Interscholastic Federation have to walk a fine line with their mixture of public and private schools.

Several folks who know have told me that Hawaii High School Athletic Association state tournaments for fall and winter sports have been canceled, although official word has not come on any of that.

Intramural programs at St. Anthony and Seabury Hall on Maui have helped to alleviate some of the need to compete, but most of the private schools here have been in full on-campus learning mode since August.

Those schools’ patient approach, waiting to compete with their MIL public school brethren, is highly noteworthy. However, all of the private schools are counting on some answers — real answers — from Tuesday’s meeting that just may not be possible to get with all of the unknowns that still exist from the state and county levels.

The wait has spurred efforts to start clubs in track and field/cross country and golf, while a similar effort in basketball appears to be mounting as well.

Existing clubs across the sports spectrum have struggled to get permits with the strict (and understandable) protocols that they must deal with on the county parks and recreation level.

Some have been successful, some have not.

Some of the protocols are moving slowly — a recent move to allow four swimmers per lane (up from one per lane) at public pools for swim club practices has been a huge boost to the sport.

Other sports have not been so fortunate — county gyms, for example, are still off limits.

There have been cases of simply kicking the can down the road by those who are in charge of these decisions, there’s no refuting that for anyone who looks closely.

My best guess is some fall and winter sports will happen in the high school ranks — air riflery and swimming are at the top of that list, I believe.

The emphasis will most likely be put on spring sports — baseball, softball, boys volleyball, tennis, golf, girls water polo, track and field — that were missed last spring.

We have the time to get on top of the process for these sports, and preventing two straight missed seasons for them should be the realistic thought process.

Surfing is unique to the MIL and I believe that spring sport has a good chance here as well.

Let’s be clear: judo, wrestling and, yes, football are not going to happen here — as far as I can tell — in the 2020-21 academic year. Basketball is very, very doubtful, too.

Things are getting better with the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines underway, but I can see a fall of 2021 where having one of those vaccines will be necessary to play high school football here.

The calendar has turned, 2020 is over.

The time has arrived for some answers, however and from whomever they come, answers must be delivered.

Sooner. Than. Later.

Honesty is the best policy and knowledge will set us all free. The answers are not all bad. In fact, some of them will be great — all we have to do is look toward Kapalua next week.

Happy New Year everybody.

* Robert Collias is at [email protected]


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