By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Out in Kapaau, there’s a long-awaited resurgence with swimming, which will return as a Big Island Interscholastic Federation sport in the winter — offsetting the news that the Kohala football team has canceled its season.
The Cowboys (0-4) will forfeit their remaining games, including Saturday’s road trip to Ka‘u (0-4) in a matchup of winless BIIF Division II teams. Kohala forfeited its season-opener to Kamehameha due to low numbers, then lost to Hawaii Prep 52-6, Konawaena 76-0 and Honokaa 52-8 last Saturday at home.
“It’s because of health and safety concerns due to a lack of numbers,” Kohala athletic director Laurie Koustik said. “We only had 20 healthy boys eligible for next month. I told the team Monday during practice. Of course, they took it very hard. They want to play and played with a lot of heart. A whole lot of injuries piled up and they took it hard, but were very understanding.”
The first two weeks the Cowboys lost two players to injuries. Then the final two weeks, one player suffered a broken arm and another had a concussion, said Koustik, who noted that football will be eligible to return next year.
“The league no longer has that rule (to suspend a sport for dropping out),” she said. “This year like last year we didn’t have the numbers. We’re still real low. I do know we have a Pop Warner team, but that won’t be an immediate help.
“The fortunate thing is we only have five seniors. That could help us have a quick turnaround to get us right back up. We have to see what the level of commitment is.”
The high school enrollment is 260 students, just four below last year’s number. A freshman class of 90 students didn’t add needed depth for the Cowboys, who watched their original roster of 30 players gradually shrink in the passing weeks.
To all those Cowboys who kept coming to practice to the very end, Koustik pointed out there is a lesson to be learned, despite the disappointment of a canceled season.
“Some people may look at it as a real negative. But there were positives coming out of this football situation,” she said. “The boys played really hard, and with a lot of heart. It’s always a difficult decision to drop football. But the feeling with the parents and kids and community is the team always put its best foot forward.
“With some of the scores this year, it would be have easy for the kids to give up. But they didn’t. They fought to the very end. If anything, that’s a major positive. There was a lot of maturing in those boys.”
The BIIF winter sports season is always busy — sardine-packed with boys and girls basketball, boys and girls soccer, canoe paddling, swimming and diving, and wrestling.
Basketball has always been a popular sport out in Kapaau. Not too long ago, swimming did quite well for itself in terms of participation. It will soon be up and running strong like before.
Kohala’s last season of swimming was in 2006. The sport returns this season, due to the grassroots effort of coach Jeff Coakley and the enthusiastic support from Koustik and principal Janette Snelling.
“Jeff has been involved in USA swimming for years and years,” Koustik said. “He’s had a group of kids since they were young and those kids have reached high school age. Some of those kids are at the top of their age groups. Hopefully, Jeff can build a program as a team, and not just as individuals.”
Coakley is a senior lifeguard at Kohala county pool, where all the senior lifeguards are coaches for a novice swimming program, which started five years ago. That first year there were seven swimmers. The program has swelled to 40 swimmers.
There are nine Kohala swimmers registered to compete in the BIIF this season, including sophomore Kassie Kometani and freshman Yuki Zbytovsky. Both are in the USA swimming program, and the Warrior Aquatic Club, run by Dan Lyons and assisted by Coakley.
At a Big Island swimming meet earlier this month, Zbytovsky won 13-14 age division title in the 200-yard breaststroke, and finished second in the 50 freestyle, and 100 backstroke while Kometani took the 15-16 title in the 50 free, second in the 500 free, and placed fourth in the 100 back and 200 individual medley.
“It’s been in the making since 2007. We’ve been building it up, being patient, training and teaching,” Coakley said. “In 2012, we’re ready to showcase it. We have other girls on the USA team in seventh grade. When they become freshmen, Kassie will be a senior. All the girls will team up again. We could have a really good team and compete for the BIIF title. We could be right up there, but time will tell.”
Coakley is also the father of Daniel Coakley, a 2007 Kealakehe graduate, who competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics for the Philippines. He’s a student at Hawaii Community College and helps coach Kohala.
“He’s teaching stuff I’ve not seen or heard about,” Coakley said. “He’s trained with Gary Hall Sr. (a three-time Olympic medalist) and Sergio Lopez, a bronze medalist from Spain. He’s actually competed against Michael Phelps and Cullen Jones. He has all this experience that helps the girls. He’s teaching them stuff, how to compete and how to race.”
Watching the swimming seeds finally sprout is a nice moment for Coakley, who had a bigger glow when talking about his charges work in the classroom.
“They all have 4.0 grade-point averages,” he said. “I didn’t realize that. From the youngest to the oldest, they’ve all got 4.0s. They’re very organized and on task. I guess that’s what it takes to be successful at anything. You just have to be dedicated from putting time in to your studies to your swimming.”