Tucson Youth Football and Spirit Federation president Julius Holt announced today after a meeting of association presidents that the 2020 season is canceled because of health safety concerns related to COVID-19.
Holt cited Arizona’s daily record number of COVID-19 cases recently as a reason to shut things down.
“The risk is not worth the reward,” said Holt, a former Arizona football player.
He mentioned in a statement released by TYFSF: “We have been grappling with this decision for the past four months and have received feedback from community leaders and parents, with voices supporting both for and against the cancellation of our season. The Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has changed this year’s football season with uncertainties and lack of ability to guarantee the safety of student athletes, coaches, parents, and volunteers.”
Holt estimates about 2,700 football players and cheerleaders are affected by the decision to cancel the season.
Southwest Rams 11U coach O.J. Flores has coached in TYFSF for the last seven years as his sons have grown. He is grasping the thought of not being able to prepare for coaching his son OJ III this fall or watching his 8-year-old son J.J. play on Saturdays at Sunnyside or another high school in town.
“Once fall comes around, it’s going to be a little dagger to the heart,” said Flores, who coached the Rams’ 10U team to the national tournament last season. “I understand the decision to cancel. I think it gives us a chance to wipe the slate clean and look at how we can prepare the best possible way for the 2021 season.
“Most football guys are our numbers guys and have a response for every scenario, and I think right now this response for this scenario was kind of, unfortunately, what needed to be done. In a weird way, all the stuff leading up to this with COVID-19, has brought our association closer together, all the families, the parents … There’s a genuine feeling that we are going to be there for each other to get through this.”
The University of Arizona announced Monday it is pausing allowing more athletes to re-enter its campus in light of number spikes in COVID-19 cases locally and Gov. Doug Ducey’s executive order that includes shutting down gyms among other businesses for 30 days. The order also prevents school campuses from opening until Aug. 17.
CDO football coach Dustin Peace said as a guest on the Eye on the Ball radio show on 1030-AM Tuesday night that he believes TYFSF canceling the season “is the safe thing to do at that age.”
“If they can’t figure it out at the university (of Arizona) with the resources they have, it will definitely be hard for TYF to figure it out,” Peace added.
Organized practice for TYFSF teams and cheerleaders was to begin Aug. 10 with games slated to start Sept. 5. Practice was originally planned to start July 13 with games kicking off in August, but the dates were pushed back earlier this month.
The decision to cancel the season is a reversal from Holt’s announcement June 13 in which he mentioned in a statement it was “time to clear the air … we are having a 2020 season!”
At that time, Holt said he gained assurance from parents they would be supportive following Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) requirements. Despite the declaration, the Sahuarita 49ers and Tucson Jaguars ceased operations for 2020 because of health safety concerns. In the last two weeks, the Tucson Steelers, Tucson Thunder and Tucson Raiders determined their seasons would also be canceled.
Earlier this month, the Tucson Scorpions opted to break from the TYFSF and play a schedule including Phoenix teams as part of the American Youth Football organization.
That left 10 organizations with plans to still operate in the TYFSF, which was established in 1969. This is the first time an entire season will be canceled in league history.
“This pandemic has brought on much pressure and concern throughout our community and our league,” Holt said in the statement. “Along with Governor Ducey, we are concerned with the spike in positive cases here in Arizona, which has been projected to worsen in July and August. With this projection, the governor has pulled back on openings and delayed school start dates.
“The date we set was for Aug. 3 and to do the current situation of high school football being pushed back until after Aug. 20 and Gov. Ducey moving the school start date back, we all agreed to cancel the season.”
Kirby Bollnow, a long-standing referee who earned a Volunteer of the Year award last season from TYFSF, said he is in agreement with the decision to cancel the season.
“There is a lot of risk involved,” said Bollnow, who is assigned to officiate high school games by the Arizona Interscholastic Association. “Then you look at the possibility if a kid tests positive, the whole team in addition to that player has to be quarantined. That’s two to three weeks a whole team is out. That cuts too much into an eight-game season.”
Bollnow estimates about 60 referees work TYFSF games weekly and they each stand to lose about $1,200 this season for not working games.
“That’s minimal when you think about the seriousness of a kid potentially getting COVID-19 and transmitting it to others,” Bollnow said. “The safety of these kids and their families should take priority right now.”
Holt mentioned that fees paid by parents will be refunded or transferred to costs for the 2021 season.
“All refunds will be the responsibility of the association they signed up with,” he said. “Parents also have the option to roll their funds over to next season or they can donate the funds to their home associations.”
Holt added that players who are going to be eighth graders this season will be allowed to play as high school freshmen in 2021 “as long as they are not on the freshmen, JV or varsity teams at their high school. That’s the least we can do for those kids.”
Flores’ son OJ III, who will be a sixth grader in the fall, wants to pursue football in high school and beyond. A year off from football at a developing age for his son “is a rough one to deal with,” Flores said.
“You take off your coaching hat and you talk to your son … him having been out there every year since he was 5 years old, it’s tough. I’ve kept him out of the loop of the ups and the downs all summer (about COVID-19). When I showed him the season was canceled, he had a blank stare on his face. We’ll find ways for him to stay active and competitive. We just have to wait and see when things open up again.”
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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.