The Arizona Interscholastic Association Executive Board voted Wednesday to approve the updated recommendations from the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee and move forward with the fall sports season.
“I would like to say on behalf of the staff and the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, especially for the sport of football, we would not have been able to make this decision until this time right now based on the metrics,” Executive Director David Hines said.
“So the metrics have gotten to a place that we can start football practice.
“That we can start the heat acclimatization (guidelines). That we can get kids in a helmet and shoulder pads and begin doing work.” The recommendations were widely based on benchmarks set forth by state health officials to allow the resumption of in-person learning on at least a partial basis.
Hines said it is not recommended for teams to begin contact until all benchmarks are met. However, most will likely meet those in as little as a week.
The approval to adopt the new recommendations means fall sports will continue without any further delays.
Golf is in its second week of competition while swimming, cross country, badminton, volleyball and fall soccer began official tryouts and practices.
The only sport that has yet to begin official practices this fall is football, though that will change Monday when teams take the field in helmets for the first time.
As it stands, several districts are still reportedly on the fence despite allowing teams to go through conditioning and light workouts.
The green light for teams to begin, however, was welcomed by coaches and players alike.
“Happiness,” Chandler head football coach Rick Garretson said. “My kids were in film when I told them and there was a bit of a roar. They’re ready to go.”
The SMAC updated the return-to-play guidelines for players who test positive for COVID-19, which includes an extensive check list before they are cleared for a full return to play.
Symptoms must not still be present in the athlete. Additionally, if the athlete had to go to the hospital at any point because of their illness, they will not be immediately cleared.
The athlete also has to be screened for myocarditis; a heart defect that has been shown to occur after infection.
If all criteria are met after the infection, the athlete will then begin a minimum seven-day return-to-activity protocol, which involves three days of light activity followed by three more days of complex and normal training.
“We are excited it’s finally here,” Higley coach Eddy Zubey said in a text message after the AIA meeting. “We are ready to go on Monday!”
“I’m jacked,” said Dobson football coach Bill Godsil, who was in the middle of practice when he heard the AIA’s ruling. “I’m sure as soon as I tell the boys when I bring them together, I’m sure they’ll be excited.
“The kids are ready. It’s going to be great for them to have some sort of a normal life again.”
Dan Hinds, the head football coach at Desert Vista, said, “I really thought we were going to hear this news. I think the AIA saw what was going around them in all of these other states. I think they made the right decision.”
Mountain Pointe head football coach Eric Lauer said the summer of uncertainty has given him and his players a new appreciation for the opportunities they have.
“With every step or stage they give us, we will advance full speed with great appreciation,” Lauer said. “For a privilege up until this point the year 2020 we have taken for granted.”
Modifications to postseason eligibility are currently being updated and will be posted on the AIA.
Hines previously said the minimum number of games teams must play to be eligible for the playoffs will be reduced, that way teams in districts on the fence could potentially join later on in the season.
Additionally, Hines said teams that join late can play an independent schedule and qualify for playoffs.
Teams with a reduced schedule will also have the option to play an extra game at the end of the regular season if they do not appear in the postseason tournament.
“If teams want to jump in, we can create an independent schedule for them,” Hines said.
“An independent schedule can qualify you for the playoffs. Teams could also come in and say, ‘Listen, I’m not so concerned with playoffs, but I want to play four or five games then when we get to the playoffs, I want to play an extra game or two.’ That’s fine, too.”
Hines added that conferences are in the process of finalizing schedules for all sports this upcoming season. Those are expected to be released in the coming days or weeks.
“To say we are happy to be where we are now is an understatement,” Hines said. “The board members really took their time to make sure that this could be done safely. We think that it definitely can.
“With the help of everyone at our member schools doing their part, we can absolutely make this a memorable season.”