The Arizona Interscholastic Association Executive Board, facing a significant backlash of athletes and coaches after voting to cancel winter sports last week amid COVID-19 concerns, has reversed its decision and will allow boys and girls soccer and basketball and wrestling to take place.
The board voted 5-4 today to allow the competition under intense COVID-19 mitigation, including athletes wearing facemasks at all times among other strict mitigation standards.
The decision to go forward with winter sports competition still must meet the approval of the counties, school districts and individual schools. In the fall, Pima County recommended discontinuing football and the school districts shut down the sport in early December.
Schools statewide can continue practices with competition slated to start Monday, as was previously scheduled.
Spirit lines will also move forward with winter-sport participation.
Sahuaro girls basketball coach and athletic director Steve Botkin said TUSD programs have the backing of the district’s new athletic director Dee-Dee Wheeler, a former Arizona basketball standout, to move forward with practices, which are in Phase II as of now (no more than 10 players allowed in workouts while keeping social distancing).
Botkin mentioned the district is hopeful that Phase III (full workouts) can begin by next week with at least a 10-game schedule starting the week of Jan. 25. Sahuaro, which features star forward Alyssa Brown, was originally scheduled to begin its season Jan. 19.
“Everything is up in the air, but we’re hoping to play in a couple of weeks,” Botkin said. “TUSD is probably ahead of the other schools because some schools are saying they won’t be able to start until there are kids in the seats (in classrooms) in a hybrid model.
“At least with us having 20 to 25 practices, even though they are Phase II, we’re getting some workouts in with our kids.”
Botkin added that some of the schools recently had tryouts and are not ready to compete immediately. Some schools may start playing at the start of February and get in the 10 games required to qualify for the state playoffs that begin in March.
The AIA Executive Board votes for allowing winter sports to be scheduled as planned:
- Dr. Camille Casteel, Chandler Unified School District superintendent
- Jim Love, Flowing Wells Unified Arizona School Boards Association
- Jim Dean, Dysart Unified School District assistant superintendent
- Jeannine Brandel, Flagstaff High School athletic director
- Marcus Williams, Chandler Unified School District athletic director
The no votes:
- Ricky Greer, Hopi High School athletic director
- Tim Carter, Yavapai County Schools superintendent
- Dr. Zack Muñoz, Phoenix Union District athletic director
- William Duarte, Superior High School principal and athletic director
Love, the lone Southern Arizona representative, is the board member who switched from a “no” vote last Friday to a “yes” vote on Tuesday.
When asked about the vote to move forward with winter-sports competition, Flowing Wells athletic director Mark Brunenkant mentioned he agreed with it “with COVID modifications.”
The AIA’s COVID-19 mitigation for winter sports to go on as scheduled beginning Monday:
— Only two parents/guardians per athlete allowed at home events with it being up to the schools if this will be granted. Schools may decide no spectators are allowed.
— All athletes, coaches, officials, school personnel and parents/guardians and media attending must always wear facemasks. Media must seek permission from the school’s athletic director to attend.
— Each school will complete a COVID-19 monitoring form in front of an official that will indicate the team rosters met requirements to participate. If a school does not complete this form, it will not be allowed to have competition with an AIA official, according to executive director David Hines.
A joint statement released from the Executive Board:
“This has been a very challenging situation. While we all desire to have our high school students in school and participate in interscholastic sports and activities, we feel it is imperative to consider the recommendations of medical professionals based on their expertise. Reinstating the winter season poses a risk to the healthcare system, which could impact students who may be injured. We believe that these additional modifications will serve to mitigate this risk as much as possible. Our member schools and families must understand how critical it is to adhere completely to all modifications.”
Sunnyside boys soccer coach Casey O’Brien said he is relieved that his program has an opportunity again to win its second state title in three years.
“At least the kids are excited again, that’s a great first step,” O’Brien mentioned.
Salpointe has already determined it will not compete in wrestling this winter because of its confined workout space without ventilation, according to athletic director Phil Gruensfelder.
The boys and girls basketball and soccer programs at private schools such as Salpointe and Pusch Ridge can move forward with a schedule but the schools will rely on the public-school programs in Southern Arizona for competition to fill their slate.
The Salpointe boys basketball game against Pueblo next week has already been postponed to Feb. 8. The Lancers are now supposed to start their season Jan. 26 at home against Cholla.
“You have to be extremely flexible,” Salpointe coach Jim Reynolds said. “The scheduling stuff is almost day to day.”
Reynolds, who coached the Lancers to their first state title last season, does not view his program, classified as 5A, playing 1A through 3A schools as being viable competitively when trying to fill out a schedule if Southern Arizona or Phoenix-area schools are unable to play his team.
“Our volleyball team scheduled outside of the box, playing schools like Desert Christian. I don’t think we can have a schedule like that. Pusch Ridge would be fine but it would be hard to have a similar type of schedule because it would not be good for either one of us,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds is a proponent of coaches taking the basic route with the preparation of teams this shortened season. He does not believe the season should be delayed to allow time for schools to have extended practice time for preparation.
“We coaches tend to overcomplicate things,” Reynolds said. “You can be ready to play a lot sooner than you think. I just look at it that the clock is ticking on Jan. 18. They are not going to move the season back past March 5.
“I’d rather play a game I’m not ready for totally than not have a game at all at some point. You take the opportunity to play when you can get it, I would think.”
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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.