AIA cancels high school winter sports amid increasing COVID-19 cases

Corona del Sol’s basketball season has been scrapped by statewide cancellation of high school winter sports mandated by the Arizona Interscholastic Association. –Kris Cartwright photo for Wrangler News

The Arizona Interscholastic Association, the governing body of high school sports in the state, on Friday announced that it has canceled the winter sports season after twice moving back the starting date due to increasing cases of COVID-19.

The effect is that there will be no boys or girls high school basketball, wrestling or soccer at area high schools Corona del Sol, Marcos de Niza, Seton Catholic or Valley Christian.

“While we understand the Executive Board’s position, we are saddened by this decision, especially considering that club sports are continuing,” said AIA Executive Director David Hines. “To the best of our knowledge, never in our 100-plus-year history has the AIA canceled an entire season.

The Corona del Sol girls soccer team is another casualty of winter sports cancellation.

“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.”

According to the AIA, the action was taken due to the continued presence of COVID-19 and Arizona having the nation’s highest rate of coronavirus hospitalizations. The AIA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee on Jan. 7 recommended to the organization’s Executive Board to make the move, due in large part to concern over hospital capacity.

This week, 93 percent of all intensive-care unit beds and 92 percent of all inpatient beds are in use. That raised sports medicine committee concern that an injured student-athlete might be unable to receive needed care.

The Executive Board’s vote to cancel winter sports was tight, 5-4, during a special session on Jan. 8.

“We do not see the situation improving very quickly,” said AIA Executive Board President Toni Corona. “Unfortunately, it does not appear that there will be adequate time before the start of the spring season for a winter season to occur.”

Spring sports, scheduled to begin March 1, will be dependent upon statewide metrics improving and further evaluation by SMAC and the Executive Board. The Executive Board comprises representatives of member schools and statewide educational organizations.

The AIA pointed out that college athletics are continuing because daily testing occurs for all of its athletes. There are no mechanisms or systems that support daily testing of the 30,000 Arizona high school students who participate in winter sports.

While it is true that COVID-19 is not as severe for high-school age people 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, the AIA said.

Hospitals across the state are repurposing floors as COVID-19 units to support the growing number of patients. Some hospitals have repurposed pediatric floors to handle COVID-19 caseload.

The AIA pointed out that its interscholastic sports are education-based and an extension of the classroom, an important distinction from club sports. School districts and their governing boards make decisions about participation based on medical experts’ advice and county-specific COVID-19 data. For example, football, a fall sport, was played in metro Phoenix but was not played in Tucson, which is in Pima County and had different guidelines.

The AIA emphasized that it is not possible to know at this point what the landscape will look like in future months with regard to spring sports, which include baseball, golf, softball, tennis, track and field, volleyball and beach volleyball.

If metrics and hospital capacity improve to the levels in the fall, the association anticipates allowing a spring-sports season, according to the AIA.

A petition, created by a person identified as Brandon Jackson, is online at sign.moveon.org, imploring the AIA to reverse its cancellation of winter sports. By Friday evening, it had nearly 12,000 signatures.

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