Rio Rico High School is preparing to begin fall athletics practices next week, starting with the “low risk” sports of cross-country, golf and cheer on Monday, Sept. 14.

According to a schedule included in the agenda for Tuesday’s school board meeting, volleyball would begin the following Monday, Sept. 21, with football to follow on Sept. 28.

Speaking during the meeting, Superintendent David Verdugo told board members that staff had been preparing for the start of team practices by meeting with health officials regarding COVID-19 testing and physicals, as well as procuring the necessary personal protective equipment and making sure that safety protocols are in place.

“We feel as confident as we can of starting the way that we are,” Verdugo said.

Associate RRHS Principal John Fanning added that he had met with representatives of the Mariposa Community Health Center earlier that day, and that a plan was in place to test athletes, coaches and anyone else who would be in the field area over the next three Thursdays, “just to start off with.”

He said the idea is for individual participants to be tested each time.

RRHS teams would begin by practicing at a “Phase 1” level, which minimizes contact and exposure. Athletes will also have to sign a pledge promising to behave responsibly to minimize COVID-19 risks.

Underway at PUHS

The soccer and volleyball teams at Patagonia Union High School have already begun practicing at the Phase 1 level, meaning that athletes are not allowed to share equipment, a limited number of them are allowed in a room at a time, and they must stay six feet apart at all times.

If things go well, the teams will progress through various stages of readiness to the point that they’ll begin playing games with other schools. Superintendent Kenny Hayes said on Wednesday that the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) had released game schedules for the schools planning to participate in fall soccer, and was working on a schedule for volleyball. The soccer schedule posted online had the PUHS Lobos opening their season on Sept. 21 at Desert Christian, then playing their first home game on Sept. 23 against Benson.

As the teams move toward a competitive schedule, school officials will keep an eye on the countywide COVID-19 benchmarks and monitor the health of the athletes, Hayes said.

“If something happens, we’re ready to scrap the whole thing,” he said. “We’re just hoping to slowly move forward and see if we can make something good happen.”

Neither RRHS or PUHS has resumed in-person instruction, a fact that was noted by a person posting to the Patagonia Schools Facebook page, who wrote: “How is there practice and no in school classes?”

In its response, the schools explained the Phase 1 protocols, adding that: “Because of the limited amount of students on campus, and the fact that they are only coming into contact with a small portion of students that we can control, makes it as safe as possible.”

As for fall sports at Nogales High School, Eric Sowle, the NHS athletic coordinator, said he would have an update Friday regarding a return to athletics.

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