Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

The Arizona Interscholastic Association has reversed its earlier decision to cancel the winter sports season due to concerns about community spread of COVID-19.

Its Executive Board reconsidered its position after getting feedback from its member schools, according to a news release put out Tuesday afternoon by the association.

By a 5-4 vote, board members voted to reinstate the winter sports season, starting Jan. 18, with modifications published Nov. 30, 2020 and additional modifications. The board had decided Jan. 8, by an identical vote, to halt the season, in part, due to the state having the nation’s highest rate of coronavirus hospitalizations.

The earlier modifications were:

  • A season start date of Jan. 18, 2021. The only thing that could create a statewide delay or change to this date would be government prohibition or shutdown. The end of the season would be March 5.
  • Conferences can decide the total number of weeks of competition, up to the maximum number of weeks allowed by the Executive Board.
  • All modifications to winter sports established on December 2 remain in effect: schools are required to follow all modifications.
  • Spring season will start March 1, 2021. Conferences may modify the length of the spring season.

Additional modifications reported Tuesday by AIA are:

  • All students, coaches and officials will be required to wear a cloth mask or gaiter for the entirety of a game/contest.
  • Each school will complete the AIA COVID-19 Athlete/Coach Monitoring Form the day of all games/contests and provide a copy to the opposing school prior to the contest.
  • Up to two parents or legal guardians may attend their student-athlete’s home games as allowed by the school and county guidelines.
  • Any school violating any mandatory modification, including the COVID-19 Return to Play Form, will lose access to AIA officiating.

In a joint statement released by the Executive Board, members stated, “This has been a very challenging situation. While we all desire to have our high school students in school and participate in interscholastic sports and activities, we feel it is imperative to consider the recommendations of medical professionals based on their expertise. Reinstating the winter season poses a risk to the healthcare system, which could impact students who may be injured. We believe that these additional modifications will serve to mitigate this risk as much as possible. Our member schools and families must understand how critical it is to adhere completely to all modifications.”

AIA said the situation will be closely monitored and re-evaluated in the upcoming days and weeks. When hospitalizations decrease to more acceptable levels, the Executive Board may also reconsider additional sport-specific modifications and the allowance of fans.

“This has been a very difficult decision for the Executive Board,” said Executive Director David Hines. “They have been weighing the concerns of the medical community, including the AIA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, and the requests by our member schools. We all want winter sports to happen, but it must be done safely.”