In a 5-4 vote Jan. 8, the Arizona Interscholastic Association executive board voted to cancel the winter sports season, due to the surge in COVID-19 cases since the holidays and the recommendations of the AIA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee.
Following about two hours of an executive session for a special board meeting scheduled early in the week, the board first voted 5-4 against starting competition in basketball, soccer and wrestling on Jan. 18. They then proceeded to vote on canceling the season.
Board members Tim Carter, William Duarte, Ricky Greer, Jim Love and Zach Munoz voted in favor of canceling winter sports. Board members Jeannine Brandel, Camille Casteel, Jim Dean and Marcus Williams voted against.
“We do not see the situation improving very quickly. Unfortunately, it does not appear that there will be adequate time before the start of the spring season for a winter season to occur,” said Executive Board President Toni Corona stated in an AIA press release.
The SMAC recommended that hospital capacity be considered an important factor when considering the winter season. This week, 93% of all ICU beds and 92% of all inpatient beds are in use, leaving concern that injured students may be unable to receive needed care due to a lack of beds or available medical professionals.
"Unfortunately, it is expected that the state will see a continued rise in Covid-19 hospitalizations for some time. As medical professionals, we cannot in good conscience recommend that students engage in a winter season under the current conditions,” stated SMAC Committee Chair Dr. Kristina Wilson in the press release.
All fall sports completed their seasons.
Winter sports for high school in Arizona were initially slated to start play in late November but rising COVID-19 metrics forced the AIA to delay the season to Jan. 5. When numbers continued to rise before winter break, basketball, soccer and wrestling were delayed until Jan. 18.
“While we understand the board’s position, we are saddened by this decision, especially considering that club sports are continuing. To the best of our knowledge, never in our 100-plus-year history has the AIA canceled an entire season. We want nothing more than for our students to be active in school and participating in interscholastic sports and activities. It is my sincerest hope that all Arizonans will follow the CDC and Arizona Health guidelines by wearing masks, washing hands frequently, and practicing social distance to decrease cases and hospitalizations. If for no other reason, I hope we can do it for the kids.” said AIA Executive Director David Hines in the press release.
Spring sports were not included in the decision. As of now, baseball, beach volleyball, boys volleyball, softball, tennis track and field is scheduled to begin in March.
In addition to the press release, the AIA sent the following FAQs:
Why are college-level sports in Arizona continuing to play but not high school sports?
Daily testing occurs for all collegiate athletes. Based on this testing, approximately 50% of all play is being canceled. Unfortunately, there are no mechanisms or systems that would support daily Covid-19 testing of 30,000 high students who participate in winter sports.
Infection rates and death rates are incredibly low for people under age 18. Why are we preventing kids from playing?
It is true that Covid-19 is not as severe for high school age individuals and rarely results in death or long-term impact. The bigger concern is that students may lose the ability to receive timely care in case of injury due to hospital capacity issues. Hospitals are repurposing floors as Covid-19 units to support the growing cases. In recent days, some hospitals have repurposed their pediatric floors to handle Covid-19 caseloads.
Why is there so much concern about hospital bed capacity? What does this have to do with high school sports?
Hospital bed capacity is not just an indicator of space, but also health care personnel availability. There is a concern that continuing winter sports as originally scheduled could impact community spread and potentially impact an injured student’s ability to receive care.
Club sports are continuing throughout the state. Why is this a problem for interscholastic sports?
Interscholastic sports are education-based and an extension of the classroom. Districts and school boards have a tough job and community duty to make decisions based on medical experts’ advice and county-specific Covid-19 data.
What does this mean for spring sports?
It is not possible to know what the specific landscape will look like in future months. If metrics and hospital capacity improve to the levels achieved in the fall, the association anticipates holding a spring sports season.