Editor's Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Brophy College Preparatory's association with the Diocese of Phoenix. Brophy is a Jesuit-owned school not under the Diocese of Phoenix. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused.
High school sports fields across Scottsdale lay dormant during the spring because of COVID-19 but plans are underway to keep those facilities more lively during the summer months.
The Arizona Interscholastic Association released a 12-page document that outlined guidelines for prep sports teams to return amid the global pandemic of 2020, which forced the closure of schools and ended the spring season in March and April.
These guidelines come out at a time when Arizona is seeing a sharper increase in COVID-19 cases with Maricopa County, the state’s most populous county, accounting for just under half of the overall cases.
Still, many of the state’s high schools are pushing forward with summer workouts using the AIA’s guidelines as the groundwork for their return to normalcy.
“We’re going to follow the National Federation [of State High School Associations] guidelines, which is following the CDC guidelines. We’re going to put that in,” Notre Dame Preparatory Athletic Director Mark Cisterna said.
“There are some school districts that are changing and adding in a different phase, but we’re going to stay strictly with what the National Federation has said, or that’s what we’ve proposed to the diocese.”
Notre Dame Prep is a Diocesan Catholic college preparatory under the Diocese of Phoenix, which includes other schools such as Saint Mary's Catholic High School, Xavier College Preparatory and Seton Catholic Preparatory.
Mr. Cisterna said since the school is part of the diocese, it will follow its guidance but has submitted proposals on how summer sports will look at NDP.
As for the guidelines, the AIA has outlined a three-phase approach to returning fully to practice, similar to Gov. Doug Ducey’s phased process for reopening Arizona businesses and services. There was no guidance at this time of further progress such as games or in-depth practices.
“Our priority through this is for the safety and well-being of all our state’s student-athletes and those that support them,” AIA Executive Director David Hines stated in a press release.
“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.”
AIA guidelines --- which came from the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee and garnered the AIA Executive Board’s endorsement at a May 28 meeting --- include a list of encouraged behavior and protocol to help teams navigate the pandemic. Many of the guidelines are similar to what the state and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend.
The AIA recommends avoiding contact such as hugs or high fives; using a cloth face covering when available; no water fountains; meet outdoors when possible and maintain social distancing; avoid communal spaces such as locker rooms; and limiting or staggering gatherings.
Guidelines also encourage athletes or coaches to stay away if they show symptoms of COVID-19 and not to return until the person has met the CDC’s standard for ending home isolation.
The initial phase of the guidelines allows for groups of no more than 10, with groups consisting of the same members each time, and participants must be symptom-free for at least 14 days. Temperature checks are strongly encouraged and staff must disinfect all equipment and personal material.
In the second phase, groups can be up to 50 participants but gym and other indoor facilities remain closed unless proper sanitation and social distancing can occur. Groups are supposed to contain the same members, same as in the first phase.
The third phase allows for training facilities to reopen with regular group size permitted and all sports can resume usual activities. While social distancing is not required, it is still recommended and cleaning should continue after each group use.
The AIA continued and said the guidelines were considered a “living document,” meaning it is subject to change. There were also detailed guidelines for heat acclimatization.
COVID-19 is and will continue to be present in our communities indefinitely,” the document states. “As long as there is active community spread, which means that new cases are still increasing, we must all be stewards of maintaining a healthy community by limiting the spread of disease.”
The five Scottsdale Unified School District high schools --- Arcadia, Chaparral, Coronado, Desert Mountain and Saguaro --- are allowed to return for athletic camps beginning June 15.
In a May 29 letter to the community, district officials say they will use “aggressive protective measures.” These include, according to the letter, electrostatic spraying of weight rooms, equipment sanitation, training and social distancing.
SUSD Athletic Director Nathan Slater referred comment to Chief Public Information and Marketing Officer Amy Bolton. Ms. Bolton said the district is still working on specific reopening plans for sports.
“The district has an Incident Command Team and three different subcommittees working through the very numerous details associated with operating schools safely to protect the well-being and health of students, their families and our employees,” she said via email.
At NDP, Mr. Cisterna is trying to find ways to apply all the guidelines to all fall sports since the guidelines appear geared toward sports with large numbers such as football, he said.
Volleyball staff typically give their athletes the summer off to focus on club volleyball so Mr. Cisterna said the school will typically offer a camp later in the summer ahead of the season. NDP volleyball coach Holly McLean would have the option to bring in her team for conditioning with no volleyballs, Mr. Cisterna said.
Many of the athletes and coaches are excited to get back out to play because it’s been a while since they could practice and, in the case of football, weren’t able to have any spring workouts.
“We all understand that this is a process,” Mr. Cisterna said. “You’ve got kids, a lot of kids, who haven’t done anything for two or three months. These coaches have to be cognitive of that and the first part is really getting acclimated to the heat but to exercise again. We’re going to take that slowly under the direction of our trainer.”
He acknowledged there might be some who want to push the envelope on returning to working out but he trusts the NDP coaches to properly ease athletes back into playing shape.
Over at Horizon High School, which is part of Paradise Valley Unified School District, football coach Ty Wisdom will use the first two weeks to assess where his players are at physically to gauge how best to move forward.
The Huskies will return to workouts June 8 but Mr. Wisdom plans to keep his players outdoors throughout June. He said his priority is keeping the players and staff safe so the team will do different exercises and weight lifting outside while following the AIA’s guidelines.
Mr. Wisdom’s main priority is to play games come August and he said to do that, the team will have to scale back now to prevent further spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
While some of his athletes have expressed a little disappointment in the slow approach, Mr. Wisdom says the players understand the need for it as he and his staff help them maintain a view of the big picture.
Mr. Wisdom said he’s heard some concerns from parents but assures the community their children’s wellbeing is at the forefront of his mind. He’s noticed that many of the players are still excited to see a sense of normalcy.
Still, that sense of normalcy will still be far from what was the norm last fall. Mr. Wisdom said it’s going to be hard not high-fiving or fist bumping in the early goings but that doesn’t dampen his spirits.
“It’s going to be different but again, I just can’t wait to see the guys Monday morning,” he said. “These kids have such a short timespan to play this great game and I know 99% of them are itching to get back.”