AIA board reverses course, allows winter sports - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

AIA board reverses course, allows winter sports

January 25th, 2021 SanTan Sun News
AIA board reverses course, allows winter sports
Sports and Recreation

By Zach Alvira
Sports Editor

Just days after the Arizona Interscholastic Association Executive Board voted to cancel the winter sports season amid the surge in COVID-19, the board reversed its decisions Jan. 12.

The 5-4 re-vote in favor of winter sports beginning on Jan. 18 followed an identical margin to cancel them. Jim Love, who represents the Flowing Wells Unified Arizona School Boards Association, changed his vote and joined proponents of the Jan. 18 start date.

Love said his change of heart was largely due to his desire to give schools the choice whether to have sports on campus.

“This has been a very difficult decision for the Executive Board,” AIA Executive Director David Hines said in a press release. “They have been weighing the concerns of the medical community, including the AIA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, and the requests by our member schools. We all want winter sports to happen, but it must be done safely.”

The AIA board’s initial decision to cancel winter sports was met with backlash from players, parents and coaches across the state.

A small protest of athletes formed outside AIA offices shortly after the initial Jan. 8 announcement to cancel winter sports. A group of athletes and parents returned Jan. 12.

A petition calling for a re-vote was created by a North Canyon student and shared across several social media platforms. The petition was signed by over 30,000 people in just a few hours.

Additionally, administrators and coaches immediately began brainstorming basketball, soccer and wrestling leagues independent of the Arizona Interscholastic Association. Several schools said they would explore options to give athletes an opportunity to compete at some capacity.

“I don’t think the AIA had a win-win situation, but I do think for the students and the coaches who put in all the work, it’s awesome,” Chandler girls’ basketball coach Glenda Skalitzky said. “I do believe if schools don’t want to participate, they should have that option. If we are following protocols, it should be safe. It doesn’t mean we are immune to it, but I think we can make it safe. I think it was a great decision.”

In approving the winter sports season, new recommendations were also adopted.

The board voted unanimously to allow two parents or guardians per player to attend. Each school will be required to complete the AIA COVID-19 Athlete and Coach Monitoring Form on the day of athletic events.

Those forms must be exchanged with opposing teams and will be monitored by officials. If the forms are not exchanged, officials will be pulled from the contest.

Additionally, masks must be worn at all times by coaches, officials and athletes, even those actively participating. Hines said any school that violates the guidelines will lose access to officials.

Skalitzky said the mask requirement is concerning, especially for athletes with asthma.

“My biggest concern, to be honest, I have a lot of asthmatics,” Skalitzky said. “We’ve been practicing partially with masks in leu of possibly having to play with them. Half my kids do wear them on sprints, but my question is how strict will officials be? What if it falls below the nose? If they are having trouble breathing, can they pull it away to catch their breath?

“I have one girl who, if she runs a bunch of sprints, you can hear her from across the gym trying to catch her breath. It’s just having to manage that now but in light of everything, as a coach, I can do.”

The AIA Executive Board emphasized throughout Tuesday’s zoom meeting the need for schools, players, coaches and parents to abide by the new guidelines to ensure the safest possible environment for winter sports to continue.

Overall, they acknowledged the possible risk to the already strained healthcare system across Arizona due to COVID-19 and emphasized it will take action from all of those involved to make the season a success.

“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,” the board said in a joint statement.

“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.”