How closures are affecting sports

Cory Nenaber, athletic director for Corona del Sol High School in Tempe

By Alex Zener

Currently it is estimated that about 54 million children in the United States are not in school, with a signification number of those not able to practice or participate in any sport due to the COVID-19 virus.

Tempe Union High School District closed all seven of their schools, including Corona del Sol and Marcos de Niza, to students starting March 16.

Schools are tentatively closed through Friday, April 10, as mandated by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, but TUHSD has stated they will be monitoring school closures on a daily basis to see if they need to extend the closure date.

In compliance with this mandate, the AIA and its Executive Board decreed that all 268 AIA member schools and their respective spring sports would cease from participating in any interscholastic competition until further notified.

TUHSD is working with the AIA to ensure the safety and wellbeing of student athletes who participate in their high school sanctioned spring sports including baseball, softball, tennis, boys volleyball, beach volleyball and track and field.

“Our school district is working in conjunction with the AIA to ensure that protective measures are in place to keep both students and coaches safe and healthy,” said Lenica Ruiz, assistant principal, athletics, at Marcos de Niza High School.

“As of now schools and spring sports are postponed until April 10 but we will continue to monitor the situation and make decisions that are best for the health of our students”.

Corona administrators are following similar guideline set forth by Governor Ducey and TUHSD.

“The last couple of weeks have been very different and trying. We take the safety
of our student-athletes and community very seriously, and I believe we are acting with the best interest of them in mind,” said Cory Nenaber, assistant principal, athletics, at Corona. “At this point we do not know what the future holds in regard to the spring sports season.”

Currently nothing has come out of the AIA about further postponement of spring sports after April 10 other than to state that spring championships have not been cancelled at this point.

Any discussion about what will happen, including any postseason tournaments, will not take place until schools are back in session.

High school sports are an integral part of most high school students’ lives whether they participate in the sport or cheer for their school’s athletes.

“Sports are such a meaningful part of a student’s high school experience,” said Ruiz. “To see our Marcos students losing out on those opportunities is heartbreaking.”

Said Nenaber:

“I feel very sorry for all of our Corona spring sport athletes and coaches because I know the hard work and preparation they have put in prior to the season.”

Although AIA left it up to the schools and school districts to decide about practicing and workouts, TUHSD’s decision was to cancel any organized sports activities.

Both Marcos and Corona are relying on coaches to help their athletes deal with this unprecedented and trying period.

“Coaches are expected to serve their programs in the best capacity possible during these difficult times,” said Ruiz.

“There are many ways that coaches can keep their teams connected. This includes consistent communication with players, individualized home workouts, and a continued focus on team goals.”

Regardless of their orientation or position, most people sympathize with senior athletes who have worked hard and may not get a chance to participate their last high school season.

“I feel especially bad for our senior athletes whose last season as an Aztec is being taken away from them,” said Nenaber.

Corona has several seniors affected by the cancellation of spring sports including 13 seniors out of 22 players on the Aztecs baseball team who had high hopes of making it back into the 6A State Championship finals.

“My heart is broken for all of these kids on my team,” said head baseball coach David Webb. “They have worked so unbelievably hard for this season and have come together so amazingly, as a team.”

“I’m mostly sad for our seniors who may leave high school never playing together again,” said Webb.

“We also have a fair number of players who are looking for opportunities at the next level who may have their chances hampered if the season is canceled.”

The 13 seniors on Corona’s baseball team include Kaiden Frees, Armand Torres, Jake Burkhardt, Bryan Webb, Hunter Haas, Ulises Jimenez, Ben Click, Tyler Newman, Danny Cowley, Matt Ladley, David Utagawa, Cade Verdusco, and Tyler Smith.

“I told my team to try and stay positive, be there for their family, and believe that things will get better soon,” said Webb.

Corona’s softball team, with only three seniors out of 16 players on the team, has a different scenario. Head coach Jeep Ray is retiring at the end of the season.

Ray has been Corona’s softball coach since the spring of 1997, or for 24 years, during which time her teams won a state title in 2003, was runner-up twice ( 2006 and 2008) and won 518 out of 746 games. Ray never imagined her final season being cancelled without a state championship run, but plans on retiring regardless.

Missing a great deal of their senior softball season are Shelby Williamson, Summer Duran and Jada Wendling.

Track and field situation

The one sport that attracts more student athletes than any other spring sport is track and field.

Corona, competing in Division I, has close to 300 athletes listed on its roster while Marcos, competing in Division III, has 80 athletes when combining the boys and girls teams.

Corona had six seniors on the boys team stand out after competing against 16 other teams in only one major meet, the Aztec Invitational, held on March 7, just before spring sports were postponed.

Zachary Johnson is ranked No. 3 in the Arizona Division I Track and Field Top 10 Rankings listed on athletic.net in the 1600-meter race, after crossing the finish line with a time of 4:30.74 at the

Aztec Invitational. Johnson is also ranked No. 5 in the top 10 in the 3200-meter race after a time of 9:53.57 at the Aztec Invitational.

Tyson McLain is ranked No. 8 in the top 10 in the high jump event after jumping 6.0 feet at the Aztec Invitational.

Additional notable results by seniors from the boys team at the Aztec Invitational include McLain’s second place finish in the long jump event where he set a personal record of 20-10.50 and Demetrius Rock’s fourth place with a long jump of 20-06.00.

Miles Sheppard took fifth place with a personal best throw of 145-01 in the javelin while Issam Zrek placed third and Jordan Nichols placed sixth in the triple jump event.

The girls team has one relay team ranked in the Arizona Division I Track and Field Top 10 Rankings listed on athletic.net plus three seniors with top 10 finishes at the Aztec Invitational.

Corona’s 4×800 relay team of Ashlinn Aguayo, Teadora Zawilak, Jazz Schineller and Dalee Higgins are ranked No. 5 in the Division I top 10 based on their second-place finish at the Aztec Invitational on March 7 with a time of 10.22.60.

Senior Anisa McLain finished in ninth place in the 100-meter dash while Olivia Nesky placed first in the javelin with a personal best record throw of 101-07.

Peyton Deer finished ninth in the long jump event.

How volleyball is faring

Corona’s head boys volleyball coach, Geoffrey Horewitch, has 15 varsity players on his team this spring with seven seniors.

“We are all hoping that the season is just delayed and not cancelled,” said Horewitch. “Unlike the NCAA, these seniors can’t get a year of eligibility back. They are all anxious to get back in the gym and work.”

The seniors include Loogmaan Ghare, Micah Lloyd, Ahmed Wali, Sebastian Burgos, Micah Reaban, Newton Tam and Thien Duong.

Horewitch has been proactive in giving his team things to do while at home, including workouts and homework.

“Right now, the boys are doing at-home workouts to stay in shape and watching film to learn from their first several games of the season,” said Horewitch. “They have been asked to review game film and watch some high-level volleyball while taking notes. They have been staying active at home and moving around the best they can.”

Horewitch points out another aspect of team sports that these athletes are missing: the social interaction that comes with being part of a team.

“We have been communicating over “WhatsApp.” It has been nice hearing from the team, but all the guys are missing each other,” said Horewitch.

“We are looking forward to having the opportunity to be back in the gym and together again.

Horewitch has been encouraging his team to follow Governor Ducey and the CDC warnings.

“I have been advising my players to stay home, not to go out unless to grab necessities and to practice social distancing,” said Horewitch.

“They have been complying with self- quarantining overall.”

Corona has five seniors on its sand volleyball team who, unless the season gets extended, will only have two matches left in the regular season if by chance schools closures are not delayed beyond April 10.

“I feel bad for our five seniors who have worked really hard during their high school careers to possibly not being able to compete as seniors,” said head beach volleyball coach Ben Maxfield.

“It’s really too bad that our season has been affected, but the reality is that our community health is more important than sports right now,” said Maxfield.

“I have emphasized with my team the importance of staying socially distant.”

Nobody knows for sure how long the schools will be closed or if spring sports will be just postponed or cancelled all together like so many professional sporting events.

“According to the information being provided by the AIA, their goal is to still have playoffs and some of the regular season,” said Horewitch.

“If the school year gets extended, they are willing to extend the season as well. We are hoping that it is just delayed.”

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