Much like the decision of the Arizona Interscholastic Association Executive Board to cancel the winter sports season Jan. 8 by one vote, the 5-4 decision at Tuesday's board meeting to reinstate the season was caused by the change of one vote.
Winter sports - boys and girls basketball, soccer and wrestling - will start as (re)scheduled on Jan. 18. Players and coaches are required to require a cloth mask or gaiter that covers their nose and mouth during games.
Board member Jim Love changed his vote Tuesday. Within hours of the Jan. 8 vote, the Arizona Basketball Coaches Association and Arizona Youth Soccer Association were in discussions to set up basketball and soccer seasons that would closely resemble the AIA season in terms of schools and players participating.
"Yes it is true that there were conversations happening in many Avenues, one of those being the ABCA that was looking to mirror as much of the platform that was set up by the AIA as possible. However none of that was finalized or determined because we heard of the executive board meeting that was taking place today,Peoria High School basketball coach Patrick Battillo stated in a Twitter interview. "I believe that this was a tough decision either way and that ultimately many people were aware that student-athletes were going to participate in sport one way or another and it is our jobs collectively as a community to determine the most safe and effective way to do so. And I believe five out of the nine board members that voted determined this environment, with the controls in place by the AIA and the participating schools would be the best avenue to ensure the safety of our student-athletes and overall community."
The only fans allowed will be two parents or guardians per player on the home team. Districts, schools and players will have the opportunity to opt out of the season.
During the meeting, Mr. Love said he wants to give schools, teams and players option of playing or not. He is a governing board member for Flowing Wells Unified School District in Tucson and represents the Arizona School Boards Association on the AIA board.
"I'm going to demand we put a lot of protocols in place with consequences," Mr. Love said, in the course of changing his vote from the Jan. 8 meeting.
The other four board members voting to cancel winter sports - Tim Carter, William Duarte, Ricky Greer and Dr. Zach Munoz - held to their positions.
Speaking during the Jan. 12 meeting Greer (the 2A conference representative) and Munoz (the 6A representative) said they polled their conference members, and a majority of the schools wanted to play. However, both men said they could not in good conscience vote for continuing winter sports given the state's COVID-19 metrics.
"If you look strictly at the science and data, we wouldn't be having this conversation," Mr. Carter said.
Jeannie Brandel, Dr. Camille Casteel, Jim Dean and Marcus Williams again voted to continue the season. Brandel and Dean said they respect the recommendation of the AIA's Sports Medicine Advisory Committee to cancel the winter season.
But a common concern of those voting in favor of winter sports was that players will - and already were - arranging other ways to play their sports for clubs or alternate leagues with less health and safety parameters than the AIA.
"We have seen that come true within 24 hours of our vote." said Mr. Dean, who serves as the athletic director for the Dysart Unified School District.
Any school that violates any of the mandatory AIA health and safety modifications, including the COVID-19 Return to Play Form, will lose access to AIA officiating, stated executive director David Hines during the meeting.
Basketball and soccer also have an extensive club and prep sports presence in Arizona - particularly in the Valley. These basketball prep schools most noticably have continued play through the holidays, often without mask requirements or limits on fans, as new case numbers in Arizona regularly top 9,000 daily.
"Safety has been at the forefront of our approach throughout this entire pandemic. Safety does not only include physical safety but mental safety as well. If the AIA had not reversed their decision today and no other league was created for our student-athletes, I believe that would have put them at greater physical and mental health risks," Coach Battillo stated. "Not having these student-athletes in a controlled environment with temperature checks and the same group of individuals day in and day out would result in individuals going out with other groups of young people at parks, or joining other leagues, or interacting with a variety of others that could change on a daily basis."
Millennium girls soccer coach David Cameron said the club soccer scene is similar, although the game being outdoors makes the situation a bit easier.
"They're not wearing masks or doing anything," Coach Cameron said.
Meanwhile, club sports are for the most part only available to families that can pay, marking another inequity during the COVID-19 era for families struggling financially.
""These club sports create a tremendous inequity for students and families that are struggling," Ms. Casteel said. "We all know the inequities this virtual learning versus in-person has created."