The Arizona Interscholastic Association executive board voted unanimously on Monday to not sanction the Southern Arizona High School Football All-Star Showcase game, originally scheduled May 8 at Tucson High School.
The AIA board discussed a bylaw that states an all-star event can’t take place with school personnel and use of school facilities during the school year.
Southern Arizona’s lone representative on the executive board Jim Love — a Flowing Wells Unified School District governing board member — was one of two board members who motioned to deny AIA sanctioning the game. William Duarte, the principal/athletic director at Superior High School, was the other.
Love made the argument that getting liability coverage in time for the football game, which might include the possibility of a serious injury — including a player becoming paraplegic — was too much of a concern.
Tucson Unified School District superintendent Gabriel Trujillo told the board in a PowerPoint presentation before the vote that the Arizona Bowl will be the “chief financial supporters” and will cover “all aspects of liability coverage” for the event, including the coverage if a player is injured in the game.
Tucson City Councilman Paul Cunningham, one of the chief organizers of the event, along with legendary coach Jeff Scurran, voiced his displeasure of the AIA’s decision.
“We already bought it,” Cunningham said, voiced raised, concerning the argument of liability coverage.
Cunningham added about the bylaw of an all-star event not being able to take place during a school year with school personnel and the use of facilities: “They waive bylaws all the time.”
The sanction was important to organizers so school administrators can sign off on their senior athletes being able to participate and use equipment such as helmets and pads provided by the schools during the school year.
“For the record, I’m very disappointed on the AIA’s decision but I think that we’ll still be able to have the game in June,” Cunningham said. “We’re gonna meet on Wednesday with the organizing committee and see how we can facilitate that.
“It could be a silver lining in that the NCAA dead period might be done (allowing college coaches to view the event) and having it a month later gives us more time concerning the pandemic. Some of the COVID restrictions will be even further relieved by then, hopefully.”
Trujillo made a PowerPoint presentation before the board voted outlining the benefits of the game for senior football players and also marching band members and spirit-line participants.
Many of their seasons were cut short because of COVID-19. Only private schools locally in Class 3A-6A — Salpointe and Pusch Ridge — and smaller classified schools (1A and 2A) competed in the state football playoffs. All of the larger public schools from 3A to 6A had their seasons cut short because of a recommendation by the Pima County Board of Supervisors to cancel the season in early December.
“Of all the major sports in Southern Arizona that have taken it on the teeth and lost their season has been football,” Trujillo said. “The community has really come together in Southern Arizona to facilitating a unique event that though will never replace the loss of an entire season could give our senior athletes that one last time to shine, the season that should have been the capstone of an athletic career.”
One new element in the proposal to the AIA was that players participating in spring sports — baseball, tennis, track and field, volleyball and small-school golf — could not play in the game if the AIA sanctioned the event. With the game potentially in June, this is no longer a concern.
Trujillo added the May 8 date was determined because of AzMERIT testing taking place in April and graduation ceremonies at Tucson High School planned the week after the game.
The shift to June to stage the game might be difficult to attract players, who may start planning for college by then, or to have equipment available. School districts will have to decide if players will be allowed to use their helmets and shoulder pads outside of the school year.
The Arizona Bowl in conjunction with Cunningham and Scurran have for the last three months put the wheels in motion for the game after the season was cut short because of COVID-19 protocol.
The game, which is slated to featured 100 seniors from Southern Arizona high schools, was to take place after a week of practices that was to include one day of former Arizona football players talking to the group about the differences of playing in high school and college.
The coaches are slated to be legendary Dennis Bene, who won a state title at Salpointe, and Nemer Hassey, who built Cienega into a winning program.
The local all-stars will be determined after they submit an application that is available at the Southern Arizona All-Star Football Showcase Web site. The application deadline is likely to change with a possible game in June.
The participants could represent high schools from Santa Cruz to Douglas of any classification. Class 1A players, who play eight-man football, can possibly participate. Players from Salpointe and Pusch Ridge can also participate.
The first thought was to have 30 to 35 players to a team but in order for more seniors to have one last chance, the number was increased to 50.
The Arizona Bowl became involved to provide consultation for producing a community event.
The organizers are also working with the Pima County Health Department, TUSD, the office of Tucson mayor Regina Romero and Gov. Doug Ducey’s office to make sure the event is run safely within COVID-19 protocols.
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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.