Longtime PAC-5 athletes are “devastated” after Mid-Pacific pulls out of the team

Erin Goya, Staff Writer

Six years ago, Ian Ishibashi stepped onto the field, his first year of PAC-5 football, his first year of football ever. Anxious and nervous, he wasn’t sure if the sport would be for him. But he quickly fell in love with the feeling of being able to play with others who accepted anyone on their team, no matter what level of experience they had.

Like many others who are drawn to the PAC-5 program, he said he was intrigued by this team that was made up of more than 10 different private schools playing for the Interscholastic League of Honolulu (ILH). They come together to play on the same field for a common goal: to be given the chance to play football while attending a school where they don’t have enough players to make a team. That’s what the PAC-5 program does for student athletes, Ishibashi said.

Now, as a senior, Ishibashi said he and other longtime Mid-Pacific players were devastated to learn they could not participate in PAC-5 football this year due to COVID-19. Students and parents are now fighting for their 2020-21 sports season after the announcement that Mid-Pacific will not be participating in PAC-5, hoping that administration will change their mind.

“We were all pretty devastated by this seeing that it was our senior year, meaning it was our last chance to play football as only a few of us want to play in college.””

— Ian Ishibashi

On June 15, President Paul Turnbull announced in a campus-wide email that this year, Mid-Pacific will not be participating in PAC-5 sports: competitive cheerleading, wrestling and football.
The school received immediate pushback from parents of student athletes who participate in the three sports. Senior football players have circulated a petition that now has more than 380 signatures asking administration to reconsider the decision to withdraw from PAC-5.
However, athletic officials said withdrawing from PAC-5 is the safest option.
“As we were moving into the system of cohorting, since there are fewer people involved in each circle, it just made sense not to participate in a sport that welcomes in a dozen other schools onto campus,” said athletic director Scott Wagner.
Ishibashi said numerous returning seniors were looking to participate in PAC-5 sports this year.
“None of us were aware of the decision until it was made public by Dr. Turnbull, so we had no chance to counter the decision or argue our point on why it can be safe until after the decision was made,” said Ishibashi.

“We were all pretty devastated by this seeing that it was our senior year, meaning it was our last chance to play football as only a few of us want to play in college,” said Ishibashi.

Along with Ishibashi: cheerleaders, wrestlers and fellow football players said they were looking forward to their senior season.

“I felt like the decision was just super sudden, and I wish we could’ve come together at least on a Zoom meeting and maybe tossed around ideas on how to do practice while being socially distant,” said senior cheerleader Kellie Woo.

Athletics released its most recent update on Oct. 19. According to the announcement on MyPueo, wrestling will take place from January through March. The school did not announce plans for cheerleading or football.

“It was with a very heavy heart, and I was sad to have to deliver the news to our community,” Wagner said.

PAC-5 not only provided a space for athletes from other smaller schools to compete, but it also created a community between the private schools, athletes said.
“A lot of the kids are close to each other even if they don’t go to the same school, so they’re going to miss each other and hang out with each other. Wrestling was how they bonded, that’s their fun. I’m gonna miss wrestling with them,” said sophomore wrestler Kimi Nelson.
The community created a family environment that allowed athletes to meet and bond with one another.
The bond comes from their passion and love for the sport, said junior cheerleader Nikki Fujii.
Athletes and coaches all around the island said they were devastated with the news.
“It has become a family atmosphere over the past few years, and I was looking forward to seeing those bonds grow even more this year,” said cheer coach DaJuan Parker.
Athletes from other schools were saddened to hear that Mid-Pacific will not be playing this year.

“We were very excited to enjoy things like senior night and our last football season, but the hopes of that look dim,” said Chase Hedani, a senior football player from Maryknoll School.

Hedani has been playing football since the 7th grade alongside Ishibashi. Taking the field without the Mid-Pacific football players would feel weird, he said.

The senior football players sent a letter and the petition signatures to Turnbull.

It read: “We would also be destroying the bonds between PAC-5 and Mid-Pacific, which we have spent the last forty plus years building up as one of the original five schools. In the end, we don’t know what the future holds for us, but we do know we don’t want to lose any more precious memories from our high school careers.”

Wagner said he understands, respects and thanks everyone who voiced their opinion.

“We have a lot of seniors and my heart goes out to them more than anyone else, but at the same time we have to look at the school community as a whole,” he said.

The Hawaii High School Athletic Association announced that football will start in February, according to a press release posted on the association’s website. As of now, Mid-Pacific is the only school that announced they will not participate in football and competitive cheer.

Athletics said in its most recent update on Oct. 19, that Mid-Pacific will hold wrestling as an individual Mid-Pacific sport, not a PAC-5 sport, according to the athletics department. The department did not release information about football and competitive cheer.

As of the last meeting, the administration decided to “wait and see what decision the states make before finalizing their own decision.”

For seniors like Ishibashi, he just wants to play one more game.
“This year we were all looking forward to coming back and having an even better season,” said Ishibashi.

Staff Writers Taro Tsuji, Mehana Watanbe , Kamm Kojima and Steven Aspera contributed to this report.