Massive reductions in the number of new COVID-19 cases in Arizona in August allowed the Arizona Interscholastic Association to solidify its fall sports calendar.
In a special meeting of the AIA Executive Board Sept. 2, the board voted to endorse the latest guidelines proposed by the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee for the safe implementation of a return to sport and activity.
With it, the AIA fall sports season will continue as scheduled. Football can start practice Sept. 7 if district officials allow and the regular season will start Sept. 30-Oct. 2. Girls volleyball will return to play Sept. 21.
“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 during the meeting. “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 board, composed of representatives from the member schools, reviewed the latest recommendations from SMAC before reaching their decision. With this data and the state’s recorded number of COVID-19 cases declining over the past two weeks, the Board felt competitive sports and activities at the member schools can be successful within recommended guidelines.
Schools are reminded to follow the recommended guidelines for the return to sport and activity, which has been re-released to the public, as well as the latest sport modifications.
The latest guidelines, with additions marked in red, are available here.
The 20-person medical committee is chaired by Dr. Kristina Wilson, an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine physician at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.
“Fortunately, the executive board of the AIA and the sports medicine advisory committee have a strong collaborative relationship regarding decisions that affect player health and safety. The sports medicine advisory committee authored the return to play guidelines that now allow for data driven decisions for a safer return to sports for Arizona athletes that align with state benchmarks,” Dr. Wilson stated in an email. “The executive board endorsed those guidelines and based their decision on allowing the fall sports season to continue to progress as planned based on what is currently being permitted for high school sports falling within the guidelines.”
Dr. Wilson said the most significant changes are that the guidelines for return to play are now based on the level of community spread of COVID-19 and the mitigation strategies that are in place for the school and/or district.
The guidelines now recommend returning to certain sports or certain sport activities based on the risk of COVID-19 transmission amongst the team personnel.
“Meeting the established benchmarks for Arizona place the community in the moderate community spread category. Once that category is reached, non-contact athletes are permitted to practice and compete against other teams in the same category of community spread,” Dr. Wilson stated. “The teams will still need to follow the fall sports modifications guidelines for their specific sport. No contact for contact sports may occur until the community of the school is in the no to minimal community spread category as defined by the national Coronavirus Task Force and referenced in the ADHS guidelines to reopening schools.”
Boys and girls golf have begun competition. Cross country, swimming and diving, badminton, fall soccer and volleyball have started practice and tryouts.
Qualifications to advance to the postseason in each fall sport have been modified. Those qualifications are currently being reviewed and will appear on the tournament pages on AZPreps365.com when ready, along with season dates and team schedules.
Dr. Wilson said the decrease in cases this past month has taken most Arizona communities from a category of high community transmission to a category of moderate community transmission. This allows non-contact sports to start and for contact teams like football to start practicing as a team with non-contact practice following the guidelines for football modifications to get players back in shape and learn the playbook.
“Currently, we are in a good position in most communities to move into the no to minimal community spread category which will allow contact practice and games to occur with mitigation strategies in place over the next few weeks,” Dr. Wilson stated. “The criteria for this category is difficult to achieve and will take everyone doing their part to continue to socially distance and wear a mask at all times in public for us to get there, but can and has been done in many other states.”
The allowance of fans into contests will be a local decision. Locales across the state will be in different timelines of their phase-in plans. School administrators will have the most recent information to use regarding their situations.
“To say we are happy to be where we are now is an understatement,” Hines stated in a press release. “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.”