Thunder football

While the AIA recommends social distancing during practices, neither the association nor school districts have yet turned their attention to actual games and how social distancing can work in contact sports like Thunder football.


The Arizona Interscholastic Association last week released its recommendations for student-athletes to return on campus for summer workouts in phases. 

The recommendations were by the AIA’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee fall in line with other guidelines by state and national health committees, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

School districts are welcome to base their own plans off of what the AIA suggested. However, some had already established guidelines their students and coaches will follow beginning as early as Monday. 

Several school districts had already begun drafting their own guidelines for student-athletes to return to campuses for summer workouts. Bruce Kipper, the Tempe Union High School district athletic director, said a plan was being presented to district leaders sometime in the coming days. As of now, he hopes students can return to campuses in mid-June. 

“We are currently working on a plan to phase in training for our athletes,” Kipper said. “We worked collaboratively with our assistant superintendent, team doctor and head of our athletic trainers. Nothing had been approved yet.”

The 12-page AIA document includes general health practices, including staying home if sick or at risk for severe illness, frequently washing hands and using a face mask when possible. The AIA also recommends daily health and temperature checks and for schools to issue questionnaires that require athletes to list any and all symptoms they may have on a daily basis. 

Additionally, it recommends athletes to avoid fist bumps, high fives and hugging, as well as to disinfect frequently touched surfaces. The recommendations also call for outdoor practices when possible and for drinking fountains and locker rooms to be closed. 

The first phase of the AIA recommendations calls for groups no larger than 10 that remain together each day. 

All athletes and coaches must be symptom free for at least 14 days before taking part in training exercises. If athletes live with someone that is either sick or at an elevated risk, they should not attend workouts. All personal equipment should be disinfected after practice and athletes should head home immediately. 

“Our priority through this is for the safety and well-being of all our state’s student-athletes and those that support them,” said Executive Director David Hines. “We are not guaranteed to have a fall season. We are preparing to be ready on time, but it will all depend on how this situation develops as the summer goes on. We just ask that schools, coaches, players and parents consider and utilize the guidelines until we get back to normal.”

The second phase allows for 50 or more athletes. All other precautions from phase one remain intact. Once in phase three, teams may return to a traditional practice setting with no limitations on the number of participants. Contact is allowed to proceed in the third phase along with the use of shared equipment. The AIA also emphasized the importance of heat acclimatization in its return-to-play recommendations. 

“This is a new thing we have to get acclimated to,” said Mountain Pointe football coach Eric Lauer, who was hired in December. “I think it’s a doable thing but there is an added variable because we just got here and athletically, I don’t know these guys. It maybe puts us in more of a sped-up mode because we don’t know each other. The best are going to play and we don’t have time to play around to find out who that will be.” 

Tempe Union’s targeted return-to-play date comes on the heels of other districts and schools nearby. 

Gilbert Public Schools announced its four-phase guidelines May 26. Coaches were briefed Thursday and workouts were to begin June 1. Valley Christian High School also released its guidelines May 26 and opened its campus to students the same day. 

Chandler Unified School District released its return-to-play guidelines. Athletes will be able to resume workouts in groups of 10 or less starting June 8. 

Scottsdale Unified School District spokeswoman Amy Bolton said the district was initially aiming for a June 29 start date, but schools have started telling students to prepare to begin workouts on June 15. 

Mesa Public Schools Athletic Director Steve Hogan said he had hoped to have a plan approved by district leadership for athletes to begin summer workouts within the week. 

The AIA’s recommendations came shortly before Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced schools would be open in the fall and organized youth sports could resume. While some uncertainty remains surrounding what exactly a fall sports season would look like in Arizona, Lauer believes the steps taken so far are in the right direction. 

“I think we are moving in the right direction and are kind of in line with the governor as he starts to open the state,” Lauer said. “I think a lot of the district will follow some of his restrictions as well.”

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