AIA to move forward with fall sports schedule - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

AIA to move forward with fall sports schedule

September 19th, 2020 development
AIA to move forward with fall sports schedule
Sports and Recreation

By Zach Alvira
Sports Editor

The Arizona Interscholastic Association Executive Board voted Wednesday to approve the updated recommendations from the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee and move forward with the fall sports season as scheduled.

The vote occurred during a special meeting held Wednesday, which included a near two-hour long executive session before the official vote took place shortly after 3 p.m. The recommendations from SMAC, the association’s committee that has advised the board throughout the coronavirus pandemic, were officially released a short time after the meeting had concluded.

“I would like to say on behalf of the staff and the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, especially for the sport of football, we would not have been able to make this decision until this time right now based on the metrics,” Executive Director David Hines said in a release. “So the metrics have gotten to a place that we can start football practice.

“That we can start the heat acclimatization (guidelines). That we can get kids in a helmet and shoulder pads and begin doing work.”

The recommendations were widely based off benchmarks set forth by state health officials to allow the resumption of in-person learning. Over the course of the last several weeks, many zip codes in Maricopa County and around the state had achieved at least two of the benchmarks, resulting in several district feeling comfortable to set a date for a hybrid in-person learning model.

Hines said it is not recommended for teams to begin contact until all benchmarks are met. However, most will likely meet those in as little as a week.

The approval to adopt the new recommendations means fall sports will continue without any further delays. Golf is in its second week of competition while swimming, cross country, badminton, volleyball and fall soccer began official tryouts and practices.

The only sport that has yet to begin official practices this fall is football, though that will change Monday when teams take the field in helmets for the first time. There will be, however, several teams across the state that do not take the field Monday.

Phoenix Union announced in early August fall sports would not take place until students are back in the classroom. Pima County, which includes all of Tucson, made the same decision along with the Tolleson Union High School District.

The news Wednesday for teams on the path to begin, however, was welcoming to say the least.

“Happiness,” Chandler head football coach Rick Garretson said. “My kids were in film when I told them and there was a bit of a roar. They’re ready to go.”

The SMAC updated the return-to-play guidelines for players who test positive for COVID-19, which includes an extensive check list before they are cleared for a full return to play.

Symptoms must not still be present in the athlete. Additionally, if the athlete had to go to the hospital at any point because of their illness, they will not be immediately cleared. The athlete also has to be screened for myocarditis, a heart defect that has been shown to occur after infection.

If all criteria are met after the infection, the athlete will then begin a minimum 7-day return-to-activity protocol, which involves three days of light activity followed by three more days of complex and normal training.

“We are excited it’s finally here,” Higley coach Eddy Zubey said in a text message after the AIA meeting. “We are ready to go on Monday!”

Higley Unified School District is among those planning for a return to in-person classes in a hybrid model on Sept. 8.

Other school districts such as Mesa Public Schools, is targeting a return near the middle of September. District officials are currently targeting Sept. 14 for a return to a hybrid model of in-person learning. Athletics had already been given the metaphorical green light to proceed with the AIA’s schedule.

“I’m jacked,” said Dobson football coach Bill Godsil, who was in the middle of practice when he heard the AIA’s ruling. “I’m sure as soon as I tell the boys when I bring them together, I’m sure they’ll be excited.

“The kids are ready. It’s going to be great for them to have some sort of a normal life again.”

Jeremy Hathcock, the head football coach at Desert Ridge, said the AIA’s decision was one he expected. All along, he told his players to prepare for a season.

“I always thought we would play, honestly, but you also never know,” Hathcock said. “It’s a day-by-day, hour-by-hour kind of thing. I think the thing we tried to do was tune out the noise.

“I didn’t even have much of a reaction from my players. They just said, ‘alright, let’s go.’”

Dan Hinds, the head football coach at Desert Vista, shared the same feeling as Hathcock.

Much of that stemmed from several other states, including Utah, already entering into the second and third weeks of their respective fall sports seasons.

“I really thought we were going to hear this news,” Hinds said. “I think the AIA saw what was going around them in all of these other states. I think they made the right decision.”

Mountain Pointe head football coach Eric Lauer said the summer of uncertainty has given him and his players a new appreciation for the opportunities they have.

“With every step or stage they give us, we will advance full speed with great appreciation,” Lauer said. “For a privilege up until this point the year 2020 we have taken for granted.”

Modifications to postseason eligibility are currently being updated and will be posted on the AIA website at a later date. Hines previously said the minimum number of games teams must play to be eligible for the playoffs will be reduced, that way teams in districts on the fence could potentially join later on in the season. Additionally, Hines said teams that join late can play an independent schedule and qualify for playoff.

Teams with a reduced schedule will also have the option to play an extra game at the end of the regular season if they do not appear in the postseason tournament.

“If teams want to jump in, we can create an independent schedule for them,” Hines said. “An independent schedule can qualify you for the playoffs. Teams could also come in and say, ‘listen, I’m not so concerned with playoffs, but I want to play four or five games then when we get to the playoffs, I want to play an extra game or two.’ That’s fine, too.”

Football schedules for the 6A and 5A conferences were released Thursday. Other conferences are set to follow soon after. After a summer of uncertainty, all fall sports will be played in Arizona.

“To say we are happy to be where we are now is an understatement,” Hines said. “The Board members really took their time to make sure that this could be done safely. We think that it definitely can.

“With the help of everyone at our member schools doing their part, we can absolutely make this a memorable season.