There will be a winter high-school sports season in Arizona after all. The Executive Board of the Arizona Interscholastic Association decided in a 5-4 vote Tuesday, Jan. 12 to hold winter sports. This reverses their decision of Jan. 8 to cancel the winter high school sports season due to concerns about injured athletes being able to receive treatment due to the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.
The winter sports season will start Jan. 18.
Under the board’s decision, individual schools will decide if they will have winter sports.
AIA Director David Hines told the board at the start of the meeting that these have been difficult times for the board.
“We’re in a no-win situation,” he said.
The reasons board members gave for allowing winter sports to go on included athletes are going to play anyway, either in clubs or informal leagues. They said the safest place for students to be is in school, and the AIA and schools can control many of the aspects of how these games are played.
Board Member Jim Love said he wanted to go ahead with winter sports and let the individual schools decide for themselves.
Board Member Marcus Williams said there are emotional and social issues with students not being able to play sports.
“I’ve talked athletic directors at our member schools,” Williams said. “The members want to go forward. The students want to play.”
By not holding winter sports, Board Member Camille Casteel said they would be contributing to the inequity between students and schools. Many low-income students can’t afford club sports and will fall behind, just as many low-income families are falling behind in virtual learning because of Internet access.
Opponents to holding winter sports noted the number of coronavirus cases in the state, and that Arizona has the highest number of new cases per 100,000 in the population of anywhere in the world. Board member Tim Carter remarked that, if one just looked at the data, there would be no decision to make.
“The majority of our schools are in virtual mode,” Carter said. “How can the kids compete when they aren’t in school?”
Rick Greer, who represents the 2A conference, said athletes in rural Arizona, and particularly Tribal areas, may not be able to get access to treatment they might need due to overcrowded intensive care units.
“How do we not take into account the opinions of medical people?” he asked.
The opponents also stated concerns that many parents are not adhering to coronavirus protocols, such as face masks and social distancing.
The board also approved new restrictions on athletic events proposed by Hines. These included no fans at games, except for two parents or guardians per athlete at their home courts. The number of these fans who may attend will be limited by local rules regarding how many people can attend public gatherings. Students, coaches and officials must wear face masks for the entirety of the game or contest. The mask should cover the nose and mouth. Face shields will not be permitted.
Media who wish to cover a game will need to get permission from the school’s athletic director.
Athletes will also need to fill out a covid reporting form before each game. This report will be signed off by the coach, and will be exchanged with the report from the other coach during the meeting between coaches and officials prior to each game.
Failure to meet these new restrictions will result in the school losing access to AIA officiating, Hines said. If the violation occurs while they are at an event, officials are to leave the venue. They will be compensated for their time and travel.
Hines said these new restrictions are necessary because the coronavirus cases in Arizona are so much higher than they were for the fall sports season.
“We’re taking into account the current situation,” he said. “Comparing fall to winter is like comparing apples to oranges.”
Hines and Board President Tori Corona said they had received a lot of communications since the Jan. 8 decision. They said they appreciated all of it.
“Your concerns haven’t fallen on deaf ears,” Corona said.
Hines said some board members had been harassed and even threatened over the Jan. 8 decision. He asked that the public respect the board and the tough decisions they had to make.
“The threats and name-calling are inexcusable,” he said. “The bottom line is we’re here to help kids.”
“There are no right or wrong answers,” Corona said. “I urge everyone to move forward with understanding and patience. Stay well, stay healthy, and we’ll work together through this pandemic.”