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AIA recommends postponing start of winter sports seasons

PHOENIX – The Arizona Interscholastic Association recommended postponing the start of winter high school sports such as basketball, wrestling and soccer to its executive board Monday, possibly pushing the start of those sports into January.

AIA Executive Director David Hines will meet with state health and education officials before the executive board votes on the proposal.

The news is forcing high school coaches to make some tough decisions.

“I think we had a good returning team and a good shot at repeating,” said Gino Crump, the basketball coach for defending 6A state champion Desert Vista. “(We’re) not practicing because I just don’t think it’s wise for me to get my team prepared to play. Some of the private schools or Catholic schools are practicing, but it just doesn’t make much sense to me to prepare my kids, and then get them ready to play and then they can’t compete."

“Our restrictions prevent us from (getting meaningful practice). You can’t share balls, you can only have a limited number of kids on the floor at one time, and those kind of things make it very restrictive to have a full and meaningful practice. I just chose not to do it.”

In a statement released Monday, the AIA, which is the governing body of Arizona high school sports, said:

“The Arizona Interscholastic Association has made a recommendation to the AIA’s Executive Board for consideration of postponing the start of the winter sports season. AIA Executive Director David Hines will meet with state health and education officials this week regarding the rising infection and positivity rates around Arizona. The information and statistics gathered at this meeting will be shared with the Executive Board at a meeting yet to be determined for a vote. The recommendation is to have the competition season begin sometime in January with the two weeks of mandatory AIA practice to take place before competition can begin.”

AIA spokesman Seth Polansky provided additional details later Monday.

“The AIA made a recommendation to its executive board to postpone the start of the winter sports season until January,” Polansky said. “I don’t have an exact date for that yet. It’s going to depend on some other information that our executive director, David Hines, has to gather and provide to the board. But basically, we’re looking at pushing everything back to January and maybe abbreviating a season. (We would) still have a full season, just lower minimums for games to qualify for postseason."

“And, hopefully, the state will kind of stem the tide with the recent rise in infections and positivity.”

Polansky added that the AIA is “just making sure all of our kids can get out there in a safe environment.”

Many winter sports, including basketball and wrestling, are played indoors, which can contribute to spreading COVID-19. However, Polansky said that a sport being played indoors is not the AIA’s first priority when creating their guidelines for safe play.

“We look at (basketball) the same way as volleyball,” Polansky said. “Basketball is in the same category as volleyball as far from the National Federation standpoint, (in that) it’s a moderate contact sport. It being indoor is not as much of a concern (for) us. How much contact there is between the athletes and how much interaction there is between bench personnel and other personnel within the gym (is the bigger concern)."

“We do have guidelines set up by our Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC) in a document we keep on our website at all times about the metrics you need to have to play a moderate sport – what restrictions you may have to start practice, as far as not sharing balls or other equipment when you first start conditioning. Things like that, which (are) available (on our website).”

High contact sports like wrestling, in which athletes are in almost constant contact, are of greater concern to the AIA, according to Polanski.

“Wrestling is probably a little more concerning, just because it is considered a high impact, very high contact sport,” Polansky said. “There’s going to be different metrics and different guidelines set up for that sport, which we also have on our website.”

The AIA will approach basketball with guidelines similar to those used during fall indoor sports.

“We have badminton, and we have volleyball, which are indoors,” Polansky said of the fall schedule. “Now as far as regular season, all those decisions will be made at a local level because every district, every county, every school has a different phasing approach."

“The regular season attendance mandates, or capacities, will be left up to the schools. What we’re doing right now in the postseason for volleyball is limiting the number (of spectators) per gym. If it’s a neutral site gym, like we have for our lower classes, 1A-3A, it’s been about 125 (spectators) per side."

“With our bigger schools (4A-6A), we have a cap number of 100 per side. But if the school allowed more, we would have the ability for more people to buy tickets to go up to the capacity that the school has set. And in going the other way, schools have said we can’t accept more than 39 (spectators) per side, as a specific number. We leave it up to the schools.”

School districts that have already begun winter sports practice will be allowed to continue to practice until the executive board votes, according to Polansky.

“Right now, we’re saying go ahead and practice as usual,” Polansky said. “Chances are there won’t be any competitions – not because we’re saying there won’t be but because there are so few districts and schools out there that meet the metrics (and) they probably don’t have anybody to play."

“I think some of our counties that meet the metrics at this point are the more rural areas where there’s only one or two high schools in the county … We’re going to allow them to keep practicing until word comes out, but everything is going to go out pretty quickly.”

Polansky said the AIA executive board typically only meets once a month, so a special meeting will probably be called soon to make a final determination on a potential postponement and a timetable.

“We just talked about it for the first time this morning at our regularly scheduled meeting today,” Polansky said. “I would assume our board would probably be convened by next week to make a decision on this.”

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