At least two high schools in Santa Cruz County were preparing to restart their winter athletics programs after the executive board of the Arizona Interscholastic Association this week reversed its previous decision to cancel the season.
As a result of the board’s 5-4 vote on Tuesday, Arizona’s high school basketball, soccer and wrestling teams were cleared to begin their seasons as planned on Jan. 18, despite the state’s worst-in-the-nation COVID-19 diagnosis rate and record numbers of coronavirus patients occupying inpatient hospital beds.
Specifically citing the state’s hospital crisis, the AIA board voted 5-4 last Friday to cancel the winter sports season. The decision was met with widespread outrage from athletes and parents, and the board quickly reconvened to reconsider its decision.
“We have had board members that have been harassed,” AIA executive director David Hines said at the start of Tuesday’s meeting, according to the Arizona Republic. “We have had board members that have been threatened. Name-calling, derogatory comments are unacceptable and inexcusable.”
In the end, one member changed his vote and the season was back on. The swing voter said he had decided it was better to let the schools decide the issue for themselves.
Following discussions among school leaders on Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning, Nogales High School principal Tim Colgate said the Apaches basketball and soccer teams would return to action, with competitive play beginning the week of Jan. 25.
“NHS will be moving forward with winter athletics, monitoring our students and programs very closely for the spread of COVID-19,” Colgate said in an email.
However, Nogales will not have a wrestling team this year, he said.
At Patagonia Union High School, which fields boys and girls basketball teams during the winter, Athletic Director Nate Porter said in an email Tuesday: “As of now, we intend to move forward as planned.”
As of Wednesday, the PUHS boys teams were scheduled to open their seasons at home on Jan. 19 against Fort Thomas.
Also as of Wednesday, Rio Rico High School appeared to be leaning toward resuming winter sports.
“Administration is meeting to discuss plans for winter sports,” said a statement from school district spokeswoman Shannon Enciso. “We anticipate moving forward, but will have to review what that would entail. We will release more information after some decisions are made.”
In allowing the winter sports season to go forward, the AIA board also imposed a number of modifications, including the requirement that all student-athletes, coaches and officials wear a cloth mask or gaiter for the entirety of a game.
In addition, no more than two parents or guardians can attend each student-athlete's home games, as allowed by the school and county guidelines.
Any school that violates the mandatory modifications will lose access to AIA officiating.
“Reinstating the winter season poses a risk to the healthcare system, which could impact students who may be injured,” the executive board said in a joint statement. “We believe that these additional modifications will serve to mitigate this risk as much as possible.”