Friday Night Lights Gone To Birds

A shearwater in flight

Kaua’i’s version of Friday Night Lights has gone to the birds, literally. The Kaua’i Interscholastic Federation has decided recently to move all high school football games from the institutional Friday nights to the mundane Saturday afternoons. As it stands, junior varsity contests will commence at 1 p.m. and varsity follows at 3:30 p.m.

“Not only do our teenagers and high school students look forward to ‘Friday Night Lights,’but our family members and community take pride in these local games,” Lori Koga, mother of former and present Kaua’i prep athletes, wrote in an e-mail to me. “It is what defines our isolated island. It’s not just a game, it is an event that brings family and community together.”

The change has to do with the birds – the endangered Newell’s shearwaters, to be exact. The County of Kauai faces a $10,000 fine for every shearwater that falls to the ground during a KIF football game.

These birds come in to nest during a few months of the year, and it just so happens it’s during the KIF football season. These birds are drawn to the lights and either collide with the huge, illuminated fixtures or become disoriented and fall to the ground.

Last year, the county recorded 33 fallen birds, which totals $330,000 in fines. It has approached the KIF and its athletic directors to help pay the fines, but since schools are not exactly awash in cash, the decision was made to move the games.

“I feel this decision will change our entire socio-economic balance,” Koga wrote. “Moving our high school football games to Saturday afternoons will have a major impact on the sport and our quality of life.”

I’ve done many stories throughout the years on this issue, and there’s truly no easy fix. I know personally how important Friday Night Lights is to the community, but I also know the plight of these rare birds, who call Kaua’i one of their few homes.

“They are one of our native species that is endemic to Kaua’i and the other Hawaiian Islands, and they are declining extremely fast and are in danger of going extinct forever,” says Andrea Erichsen, Kaua’i Seabird Habitat Conservation Plan coordinator.

It has been discussed for years to either change the times or even days of the games, but until now the problem had been pushed aside.

There has to be a way for football and shearwaters to coexist. Both are very important for very different reasons. But what’s similar is the passion for either keeping Friday Night Lights lit or keeping the Newell’s from disappearing from our island for good.

Either way, I know Kaua’i’s spirit when it comes to tough decisions. We’ve fought hard for what we feel is pono, and it’s this very energy and effort that should be put into finding a solution.

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