Mike Graham thought about all the cancellations and setbacks from the COVID-19 pandemic that his son Brayden has endured over the last three months with yet another significant setback potentially in store this week.
He spoke with a concerned voice but not one with resignation.
“I told my son, ‘You’re going to be a stronger person from this,'” Mike said. “There are no other kids who have gone through anything like this. When you look at adversity, the Class of 2020, they can handle everything right now.”
The most recent roadblock for Brayden is the Maricopa Community College District contemplating suspending athletics in 2020-21. Brayden, who graduated from Sabino last month, signed to play baseball at Paradise Valley Community College, which is one of the 10 schools in the district.
A total of 18 Southern Arizona athletes who either already attend schools or were recruited this year to compete in the Maricopa Community College District have their academic and athletic endeavors in limbo until the district’s interim chancellor, Dr. Steven R. Gonzales, announces the decision this week. The presidents of the 10 schools that are part of the district recommended last week that athletics be suspended this upcoming school year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 10 schools in the Maricopa Community College system are Chandler-Gilbert, Estrella Mountain, GateWay, Glendale, Mesa, Paradise Valley, Phoenix College, Rio Salado, Scottsdale and South Mountain. Rio Salado does not have an athletic program.
Pima Community College is awaiting the official announcement from Gonzales to determine if it will continue with athletics in 2020-21 or join the other Arizona Community College Athletic Conference schools not in the Phoenix area in playing a modified schedule. Cochise, Eastern Arizona, Arizona Western and Central Arizona will reportedly continue to have athletics. Pima and Yavapai have not publicly decided.
The sudden development of the potential postponement of sports in the Maricopa Community College District with less than two months to the 2020-21 school year adversely affects recruits and the existing athletes to make plans to attend school elsewhere because rosters of other schools are set.
“If we had gotten word up that, ‘Hey, the season might be canceled, just keep this in the back of your mind while you choose where you want to go,’ that would have definitely helped us a lot,” said Philippe Kijana, a Class of 2019 graduate of Catalina High School who redshirted this season as a freshman guard with the Scottsdale Community College basketball team.
The Artichokes, who are part of the Maricopa Community College District, also have Cholla High School Class of 2019 graduate Josh Sutherland on their roster.
“We weren’t given a head’s up and it came out of nowhere,” Kijana continued. “This should not have been thrown on us and the athletes who just signed.”
Brayden’s baseball season was cut short because of COVID-19 in March after Sabino had state title aspirations again, starting 9-0. His prom was canceled. His traditional graduation ceremony was altered. His plan to hone his skills as a catcher this summer was quelled when the Sun Belt College League season was canceled after a player tested positive for COVID-19.
An aspiring firefighter, his opportunity to take part in the Tucson Fire Cadet Program was also put on hold.
“I’m just trying to stay positive and hoping that I’ll be able to play soon,” said Brayden, who added that he plans to honor his scholarship to Paradise Valley College this school year and work toward a degree in Fire Science.
“The great thing when the coach (Victor Solis) called him (last week) and told him that the season was potentially canceled, he said, ‘I’m still going to honor your two-year scholarship for education, so if you want to go play baseball somewhere else, look at options. However, you got two years of college here,'” Mike said. “We’re pretty grateful there’s that opportunity for him to continue his education. Despite not having baseball, there’s that opportunity to continue his education.”
Kijana mentioned he will likely continue to attend Scottsdale Community College this school year on his basketball scholarship if athletics are suspended. That would mean he will go at least two years without playing a basketball game because he redshirted last season due to an injury and a desire to concentrate on his academics.
His last organized basketball game was Feb. 13, 2019, when he scored 33 points in Catalina’s 67-64 loss to Window Rock in the opening round of the 3A state playoffs. If Scottsdale’s season is postponed, his next game might not be until November 2021 — a long 33 months without playing a game.
“I’m looking at the better end of everything,” Kijana said. “I’m going to utilize that scholarship, but not playing for two years … man, you have no idea … as a player, when you get to this point, you’re conditioned to always play.
“That’s why it was tough when school was closed early. I was still in the gym every day. We used to joke around and say, ‘This (practicing) don’t stop.’ We would go to class, go to our workout, do our lifts, go to class … Only day off was Sunday. It’s been tough adjusting to not being in the gym and working out with the guys. ”
Mood, yesterday I was named my conference’s offensive player of the year…for the second time in a row🙏🏾 I play defense too! Haha 🤣 but I’m very honored. pic.twitter.com/16UuAanCWt
A petition is circulating online to show Gonzales and the Maricopa Community College District that an overwhelming amount of the public is against the recommendation to postpone all of the sports.
Kijana and his family were one of the firsts to sign the petition. The Grahams have also put their names on the petition.
Mike Graham finds it peculiar that the Maricopa Community College District might postpone all sports although the spring sports are still about seven months away. A high number of COVID-19 cases are being reported in Arizona, but those numbers could go down by the turn of the year.
When the Maricopa Community College District canceled football in 2018 (and schools like Pima followed suit), former Mesa Community College vice president of administrative services Jeffrey Darbut said, “There are no student outcomes that support the enormous cost of athletic programs.”
That might still be a prevailing thought among the district’s administrators.
“Here it is June and you’re canceling spring sports? That’s a little bit too advanced,” Mike said. “I can see fall sports (getting postponed) but I can’t see spring sports. … I certainly think that it is a financial decision. It’s not just COVID.”
Mike is a Tucson City Public Information Officer who also works security for University of Arizona events and concerts at different venues. His wife Karen owns the Hair 2000 salon in Tucson. The pandemic has also thrown a wrench into their livelihoods with the closures and cancellations since March.
Kijana is living with his parents and siblings in Tucson trying to keep his mind away from the hardships he might continue to face if sports at Scottsdale Community College are postponed until 2021-22.
“With the events leading up to this point, I can’t really get surprised any more,” Kijana said. “I was really hurt when things got cancelled and I’m still hurt now that they might cancel our season. We also have to think that this may be a decision to keep us safe and prevent people from getting sick.
“I’m on God’s time and I am trying to stay safe and move on.”
Southern Arizona Athletes Competing with Maricopa Community Colleges
Student-athletes listed are incoming recruits or were listed as freshmen on 2019-20 rosters:
Abdullahl Mohammed, F, Rincon/University
Zac Mohammed, F, Rincon/University
Jorge Alvarez, D, Rincon/University
Diamonique Villa, C, Sahuarita
Brianna Jackson, C, Sahuaro
Xye Reed, F, Tucson (Class of 2020)
Ian Ponce, OF, Salpointe
Logan Martin, SS, Sahuaro (Class of 2020)
Nomar Basurto, 1B, Salpointe (Class of 2020)
Wyatt Wingstad, UT, Cienega (Class of 2020)
Berkeley Larsen, F, Ironwood Ridge
Zoe Corral, UT, Tucson
Brayden Graham, C, Sabino (Class of 2020)
Carlos Molina, 1B, Pueblo (Class of 2020)
Jayse Burkett, RHP, Benson
Josh Sutherland, G/F, Cholla
Philippe Kijana, G, Catalina
Rayne Cox, OH, Mountain View
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.