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The 2021 winter high school sports season has been called off. The Executive Board of the Arizona Interscholastic Association made the decision in a special meeting held Jan. 8. The vote was 5-4. The possibility injured athletes couldn’t get treatment due to the rising number of coronavirus COVID-19 cases in the state was cited as the reason for the cancellation.

On the day the announcement was made, Jan. 8, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported 11,658 new cases to bring the state’s total to almost 600,000. The state is also approaching 10,000 deaths. La Paz County reported 69 new cases to bring the county’s total to 1,788 with 35 deaths.

The decision to cancel the winter sports season was made following a recommendation made to the board Jan. 7 by the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee. They said the board needed to consider hospital capacity in making their decision regarding the season.

AIA Spokesperson Seth Polansky noted that, this week, 93 percent of all intensive care beds and 92 percent of all in-patient care beds were in use. He said the concern was that injured athletes may be able to get the care or treatment they need due to a lack of beds or available medical professionals.

According to 91-divoc.com, which tracks coronavirus cases, Arizona has the highest rate of new cases per 100,000 in the population of any state.

“Unfortunately, it is expected that the state will see a continued rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations for some time,” said Dr. Kristina Wilson, the chair of the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee. “As medical professionals, we cannot in good conscience recommend that students engage in a winter season under the current conditions.”

Wilson is a pediatric sports medicine physician at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

The AIA had already pushed the start of the winter sports season to Jan. 18.

AIA Executive Director David Hines said that, to the best of their knowledge, the AIA had never cancelled an entire season in their 100-year history. He said he hoped everyone will follow the guidelines set by the ADHS and the Centers of Disease Control.

Parker High Athletic Director Dan Maya reacted to the AIA’s announcement.

“We are extremely disappointed,” Maya said. “Our coaches have been getting their kids ready since Nov. 23.  I really feel for the players and coaches. I also understand the reason and accept it as the right thing to do.  Let’s get those vaccines here.”

Spring sports is set to begin March 1. Polansky said that what happens with that season depends on statewide metrics improving, and evaluations from the SMAC and the Executive Board.

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