The Tempe Union High School District Governing Board praised administrators, coaches and students for their cooperation in adhering to guidelines to pursue a fall sports season.
Members of the board expressed their appreciation after a presentation by new district Athletic Director David Huffine during the board’s bi-weekly meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 19. Huffine walked board members through the district’s phased return-to-play plan, which began June 8 and allowed all Tempe Union schools to move to the third phase Monday.
“We have been following all guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, the AIA, the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee of the AIA, the district’s Health Mitigation Plan and we have been in close contact with community health experts,” Huffine said.
The first phase began with groups of 10 or less, which included nine athletes and a coach. Those 10 individuals remained in one cohort through July 31, which would have helped the district mitigate the spread of the virus should one of the individuals in a group had tested positive.
In one instance, it proved to be effective. A Desert Vista football player tested positive for the virus in June and immediately stopped attending summer workouts. Thanks to contact tracing by the school’s athletic training staff, it revealed only the group the student-athlete worked with had to quarantine. Luckily, no other players or the coach responsible for that group developed symptoms and all were able to resume workouts after 14 days.
The district as a whole has had little to no problems that caused setbacks. Huffine said during the presentation that since Aug. 1, the district has had one athlete that has experienced symptoms and needed to be tested. As of Aug. 19, that test was still pending, and no other players or coaches experienced symptoms. Huffine added the district hosts over 750 athletes per day on campuses for workouts.
“We were able to stop one student athlete who wasn’t feeling well and from that we sent them home and recommended for them to get a test taken,” Huffine said. “We feel very good as to where we are as a district.”
The second phase of the district’s return-to-play plan began Aug. 1 and expired Aug. 21. Schools were allowed to host as many as 50 individuals at one time and were able to use some shared equipment, such as footballs. All balls and equipment had to be sanitized after each use, and all coaches were responsible to wear masks. Athletes were also responsible for wearing masks when unable to socially distance.
Phase three will still follow the same mask and sanitization guidelines but will allow for more game-like situations in practices. While still unable to scrimmage, teams will have the ability to do one-on-one drills to a certain extent and use more shared equipment such as bags when in drills. The third phase also allows for pom and cheer to begin tryouts and practices on campus. However, band, student council, NHS, yearbook and e-sports will remain in a virtual setting.
Huffine added that the district is still waiting on recommendations from Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and state health officials in regard to allowing fans to attend games. Utah schools, which opened the 2020 football season two weeks ago, have limited the number of fans allowed to attend. Masks are also required at all times.
Board members asked a variety of questions following the presentation, but never once questioned the ability to have a fall sports season. Board Member Michelle Helm referred to the guidelines from the Arizona Interscholastic Association that appear to be in the process of being updated and questioned how it would affect Tempe Union going forward.
Huffine said due to Phoenix Union and perhaps other districts electing to postpone fall sports, the AIA needed to update guidelines for those teams to potentially return at some point during the season. He added all necessary communication would be sent to schools if Tempe Union was forced to take a step back.
“I am in close contact with coaches almost on a daily basis,” Huffine said. “I meet weekly with our medical team and go over the data because the one thing we don’t want to do is we don’t want to push something in a way where if a situation were to arise and there might be a student or two that may have symptoms, we need to be able to shut a group down and be able to contact trace immediately.”
Superintendent Dr. Kevin Mendivil questioned how Phoenix Union’s decision to postpone fall sports would affect the district’s teams in terms of scheduling. Huffine noted the AIA is currently working on adjusting the fall schedules for all teams.
As it stands, Tempe Union plans to proceed with the current fall sports calendar provided by the AIA, which has had golf, cross country and swim & dive already begin. Badminton, fall soccer and volleyball are set to begin official practice on Aug. 31, while football will begin practices Sept. 7 and competition nearly a month later on Oct. 2.