High school football coaches in Arizona, including many locally, have put their name on a letter that will be issued to the Arizona Interscholastic Association for the season to be moved to the spring amid COVID-19 concerns.
The letter, dated July 16, has a list of 37 football coaches who are in favor of moving the season to the spring in an effort to avoid the cancellation of the sport altogether.
The letter lists the reasons why the AIA should consider the switch and they include protecting the health and safety of all involved, providing the full experience of the sport (with the fear the fall season would be greatly reduced), increasing the time for athletes to get noticed by colleges, giving school districts more time to formulate and execute a rescheduling plan, and avoiding the drastic decision that football and other sports be canceled.
CDO coach Dustin Peace is one of the coaches whose name is on the letter. He has been a significant advocate of delaying high school football until COVID-19 is under control and health officials deem it safe for players to be tackling each other and being close to each other and the coaches.
“Moving football to the spring is the only option to give kids a chance because right now if it’s in the fall, it’s not gonna happen,” Peace said, noting the spike in COVID-19 cases in Arizona over the last few weeks. “I understand there’s a lot of other things that affects moving to the spring with multi-sport kids, spring coaches and officials.
“We addressed a lot of that in the letter, and without a doubt, that’s worth to be upfront about. But as it is right now, we’re either going to the spring or we’re canceling. To me, you try to make it work as best you can, as opposed to cancelling it.”
The latest development is the AIA sticking to its start date of Aug. 17 as the first day of fall practice after Gov. Doug Ducey last Thursday did not move back the date for in-person teaching at schools on Aug. 17.
Coaches in the Amphi School District, including Peace and Ironwood Ridge’s James Hardy, have indicated they are unable to start practice until Sept. 7 because that is the date their district has outlined to return to campus. That is obviously too close to the AIA scheduled start of the football season on Sept. 10 and 11, they said.
“Amphi has said we can’t practice until we begin in-person school,” Hardy said. “As of right now, we have no idea when that would be. Last we heard Sept. 7 was the start of in-person school. If that is the case, we can’t start practice until then.”
Sunnyside coach Glenn Posey is another name on the letter, but he said he would sign a letter to have the sport played in the fall as well. Simply put, he wants a season for his players because of the implications involved that go beyond the playing field to the classroom.
“I’m in favor of whatever will get us a season,” Posey said. “I’ll put my name on that letter too because we gotta do what’s best for the kids at this time.
“Football is a motivation for a bunch of our kids.”
He added that if football is canceled “it could be devastating” for some of his players.
Desert View senior running back Jacob Ramirez tweeted recently, “I had to miss my Junior Season because of an injury, Fall or Spring just don’t take my Senior season.”
I had to miss my Junior Season because of an injury, Fall or Spring just don’t take my Senior season.
— Jacob Ramirez (@Jacob_thebull) July 17, 2020
Peace, Posey and 18 other Southern Arizona coaches are among the 37 in the state who support the proposal to move football to the spring in order for the sport not to be canceled if conditions do not improve in the fall:
- Walden Grove’s Corey Noble
- Cienega’s Pat Nugent
- Amphi’s Jorge Mendivil
- Marana’s Louie Ramirez
- Ironwood Ridge’s James Hardy
- Sahuaro’s Scott McKee
- Tucson’s Justin Argraves
- Mountain View’s Matt Johnson
- Desert View’s Robert Bonillas
- Sahuarita’s Don Watt
- Palo Verde’s Mike Wells
- Empire’s George Kelly
- Sabino’s Ryan McBrayer
- Nogales’ Jake Teyechea
- Douglas’ Hunter Long
- Baboquivari’s Pete Delgado
- Catalina Foothills’ Darius Kelly
- Pueblo’s Jake Allen
“I’m for the option that gives us the best chance of having a football season,” Noble said. “I think there are so many concerns and unanswered questions currently that it’s impossible to know what’s going to happen in the next days, weeks, even months maybe.
“Some days it seems more and more likely that everything for schools is going to be shut down this fall, then other days everyone seems committed to being open in person and committed to sports. I know we’ve gotta see the numbers go down in order to make it happen, but I don’t know that people are doing the things necessary to make that happen or if they will do those things and that scares me for the likelihood of having a fall season.”
Noble added that safety is his “No. 1 concern for everyone involved.”
“There’s obviously so much bigger things than football right now but as a football coach I have to be worried about football, and my boys having an opportunity to play football, too,” he added. “Part of my concern with football in the fall is what if we are allowed to start and then an outbreak happens on our team or someone else’s, then what happens? What constitutes enough cases to be an outbreak or enough cases that the team, school, district, AIA reacts?
“Do we shut down for 1-2 weeks? Does our district or school freak out and cancel the season? I don’t know the answer to that and I don’t know that anybody knows what the right answer is. But I don’t know if we can afford to have the wrong answer in that situation either. I don’t wanna put our season and everybody’s season, or even all three sports seasons, in jeopardy by rushing back too soon in the fall.”
— High School Football America (@HSFBamerica) July 9, 2020
California and New Mexico, neighboring states of Arizona, have pushed high school football and other contact sports to the spring.
The New Mexico Activities Association released its revised 2020-21 athletic calendar early in July and it calls for football to start Feb. 22 with a three-round playoff format beginning April 23. Eight games would be played in the regular season.
“I think more time just gives everyone a better chance to handle this properly and have a plan and do it the right way,” Noble said. “Yes, there’s no guarantee that (COVID-19) is better by then, but I think the odds are in our favor there. I know it’s concerning for other sports and multi-sport athletes but we as coaches have to do the right thing and work together to find solutions for those kids.
“That’s our job; To do right by kids and I’m committed to doing that. I know we would work with other sports to figure it out and find out how to work together. It wouldn’t be normal but I would rather our kids have a chance to do it some time after January than have it taken from all of them in September.”
The 2020 season is already altered with it starting on Sept. 10 rather than Aug. 20 because of Ducey pushing back the date to Aug. 17 that schools can open. The possibility exists schedules will be altered more with school districts pushing back further the start of the season or canceling the season.
Baboquivari became the first Southern Arizona high school recently to cancel sports in the fall.
It is one of 14 high schools, most of which are on reservations, in Arizona that have canceled fall sports, including football.
Playing football in the spring creates logistic concerns for high schools with spring sports happening at the same time.
The move would affect multi-sport athletes, especially those of smaller classified schools. For example, if players pick football over baseball, it could adversely affect a school having a baseball team.
Football may have to be played on days when spring sports are usually not held, such as Saturdays or Mondays.
The letter the coaches submitted to the AIA mentions that multi-sport athletes, with a move of football to the spring, gives “students the choice versus making the decision for them by cancelling games or possibly a season.”
The letter adds that if football is played on Saturdays, officials who also umpire baseball or softball or officiate other spring sports would be able to work the games.
Football coaches will be accommodating to spring-sport coaches for practice locations and times, the letter added.
AIA executive director David Hines said on a YouTube video released by the AIA recently that he has heard from member schools the idea of moving some fall sports to the spring and vice-versa. His comments suggest the move of football to the spring is not in the AIA’s immediate plans.
“We have approached some of our conference leadership to go back to their conferences and give us feedback for different options and ways that we can do things,” Hines said. “Really, for the most part, the membership is not interested in shifting seasons. What they are pretty adamant about is we lost spring last year. We want to protect the spring as much as possible.
“We don’t want those kids to potentially lose two seasons. We don’t want anybody to lose any season, but if we have to modify some things in the fall and in the winter, we can still have some season. We’re going to try everything we can to do it. We are meeting weekly with the directors across the nation, and so every time somebody has a new plan, we bring that back, we discuss it and see if that’s an option that can work for us here in Arizona.”
Time will tell if the AIA takes heed to the coaches’ letter or the shift of football and soccer to the spring by neighboring California and New Mexico, which is part of that national network Hines talked about.
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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.