The Arizona Interscholastic Association on Friday voted in favor of canceling the winter sports season due to the latest wave of coronavirus cases and other parameters in the state.
The motion was passed with a vote of 5-4. Board members in favor of the cancellation cited increased hospitalization rates and expressed concern that competing athletes would not be able to receive adequate care if injured. Additionally, members said sport is “an extension of the classroom” and indicated that many districts choose not to immediately return to in-person learning after the winter break.
“While we understand the board’s stance, we are saddened by this decision, especially considering club sports are continuing,” AIA Executive Director David Hines said in a press release. “As far as we know, never in its 100+ year history has the AIA canceled an entire season. We just want our students to be active in school and participate in inter-school sports and activities.”
Arizona was recently announced as the global hotspot for COVID-19 cases based on the per capita rate. Hospitals and ICUs were 93 percent full as of Friday, a large majority due to COVID-19 patients. In December, the AIA announced it would further delay the start of winter sports from January. 5 to 18 years due to hospitalization metrics. The delay also gave teams a two-week leeway after the winter break in case of cases within their schedules.
While AIA executive director David Hines and most of the council voted in the fall to close the sport only if the governor told them. Doug Ducey and state health officials, members reversed course and said they could no longer go against the recommendations of the SMAC and others who provided information to the council.
“The vote comes after recent recommendations from the AIA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee recommended the cancellation of the winter sports season,” Hines said. “While the council had previously chosen to continue with fall sports and go against the SMAC’s recommendation to cancel, the benchmarks in the state were far better than seen in the past couple of months.”
Camille Casteel and athletic director Marcus Williams of the outgoing Chandler Unified School were among those who voted for the continuation of winter sports.
Both cited the socio-emotional aspect of student-athletes and the damage it could cause if sports were canceled. They also highlighted the school’s mitigation strategies and their belief that student-athletes are the safest in a team cohort.
“It’s not a requirement for our schools to compete,” Casteel said. “I am very concerned about the emotional connection and what this will say to our elders.”
Winter sports for high schools in Arizona were initially supposed to start in November, but the increase in COVID-19 parameters forced the AIA to delay the start to January. 5. As the numbers continued to rise, it was postponed back to January. 18.
Board chairman Toni Corona said during Friday’s special meeting that they could no longer “kick the can down the road”. Eventually, the decision was made to cancel.
The decision was met with disappointment and devastation.
“I’m devastated,” said Mesa wrestling coach David DiDomenico. “The boys were ready to go. I understand the decision made by the AIA. They are sharp people who worry up there. When they cast their vote, it must have been a very heavy cast. I feel for them too.”
As is the case with many programs, DiDomenico said his athletes used their time with the wrestling team in training for a variety of reasons. Most important, however, was an escape from a difficult reality caused by the pandemic.
“At that moment, those two hours we were together, nothing else mattered,” DiDomenico said. “All they cared about were their teammates and their coaches. The rest of the world was not on our minds. For those few hours the boys could only be themselves.”
Highland men’s basketball coach Todd Fazio disputed the AIA decision, indicating that restaurants and other high-risk businesses are open in the state but winter sports cannot continue. While acknowledging that the decision was a difficult one on the part of the AIA board, he believes the hardest aspect will face his players.
“I have been with them since August. We have done everything well since August and now I have to face them and tell them we don’t have a season, “said Fazio.” It’s like telling them to study for a test and then there are no tests. I know leadership is looking for a lot of people, but these guys will still play. Now they go from playing in an empty gym to going under a roof where 10 games will take place at the same time.
“This was an opportunity to play in the safest environment.”
Saguaro boys’ basketball coach Lucas Ramirez said that while he understands the AIA’s decision was difficult, he believes the timing wasn’t ideal.
“These are serious times, the numbers don’t lie,” Ramirez said. “However, I wish the timing was a little better. We knew we were heading in this direction with bad numbers and statistics with this virus. Why wait so long to make a decision?”
Ramirez went on to question other mitigation strategies around the state outside or inter-school education and sports that have been shown to contribute most to the spread of the virus.
“I’m just very disappointed for our student athletes and really speechless,” he added.
Chandler’s women’s basketball coach Glenda Skalitzky said the news took her by surprise.
“I’m sad. It’s just sad and disappointing that we had to come to this,” Skalitzky said. “I feel like it should have been postponed for another week. I know Chandler, we voted yes. I feel for these guys and I feel for the guys who worked so hard and for their mental health. This is an outlet for many children. . “
Desert Vista men’s soccer manager Trent Elliott said he was “shocked” when he heard the AIA’s decision. His three senior captains have already contacted him to express their disappointment.
“They are obviously very angry,” Elliott said. “I was shocked that they voted and it came out how it went. Realistically, you can take a look at the numbers and realize that the state of Arizona is not in a good position. off guard and took us by surprise. “
Mountain Pointe boys’ basketball coach Kaimarr Price said now is the time to be there for all student-athletes.
“I think as adults in a leadership position, we have to be leaders,” Price said. “We know how to adapt and change in life. It sucks to think about it this way, but at the end of the day, we will get to coach next season where, like some of these seniors, this was their last chance. It’s not about us coaches. We shouldn’t train to our satisfaction.
“When things go wrong this way, our goal should be to take care of our players and help them in a difficult time.”
The decision to cancel winter sports, so far, has no effect on spring sports, which lost their season last year at the start of the pandemic. Starting now, the spring sports season will start on March 1st.
However, Hines said the same result for spring could come to fruition if case metrics continue to rise at an unprecedented pace.
“It is my sincere hope that all Arizonians will follow CDC and Arizona Health guidelines by wearing masks, washing their hands frequently, and practicing social distance to reduce cases and hospitalizations,” Hines said. “If nothing else, I hope we can do it for the children.”