PHOENIX — With the state looking to gradually reopen businesses following a shutdown due to COVID-19, the Arizona Interscholastic Association is examining ways to return to sports.
In the coming weeks, the AIA plans to issue guidelines to schools as athletes begin to start training for the upcoming school year.
“As we look to get back to doing things, what are the things that we need to be paying attention to?” AIA executive director David Hines said in a phone interview. “As we move forward, what are the things that are important to keep kids safe, get them back into shape and how much time do we need to get kids going.”
In April, Gov. Doug Ducey, along with state superintendent of public instruction Kathy Hoffman, canceled the remainder of the 2019-20 school year. The AIA followed by canceling the spring sports season.
Hines said the AIA has put together a group of individuals that includes members of the organization’s crisis management team and chairpersons of the six conferences, along with members of its community advisory board.
The group will also include members of the sports medicine advisory committee with 19 doctors and trainers from around the state. It’s the same committee that helped institute the concussion and heat acclimation guidelines.
“With the situation with COVID-19, its just brainstorming ways to have a high school sports season,” Hines said. “They’re working on that piece of it a little bit. We did some great work (last week), and we’re putting together something that we can send out to schools in the next two to three weeks or so.”
The AIA is effectively in an offseason mode, and Hines said it will soon shift into a summer mode, where most of the activities that are done are up to the individual schools and districts.
With schools closed during the pandemic, athletes are not allowed to work out in their school’s weight room. However, as Gov. Ducey looks to reopen the state little by little, schools could soon allow athletes and coaches back on campus to train for the new school year.
In the meantime, the AIA is discussing different scenarios on when that might be and when the school year will start.
“All of this is trying to be proactive in the situation that we don’t know what’s next,” Hines said. “We don’t know what we don’t know. It all comes down to where you are at with the guidance of the governor and the [Centers for Disease Control].”
What will the world be like when high school football kicks off in August? That’s a question nobody knows right now.
In a recent interview with PinalCentral, Casa Grande Union athletic director Randy Robbins raised the possibility of whether athletes will be required to have COVID-19 tests the same as they are required of a medical physical. He also wondered if there will be regular testing for COVID-19 during the season.
“I don’t think we are at that point yet,” Hines said. “Mainly because we don’t have the resources to do that nor do we have the access or the kids have access to the medical professions. Now some of the professional sports levels and maybe some of the college levels where there is more access to things, maybe and probably (there will be COVID-19 testing).”
Hines added there has been discussion across the country about allowing athletes who did not test positive for COVID-19, have not been injured and had a physical for the 2019-20 school year to have last year’s physical used again.
“Remember a lot of kids get physicals in these mass physicals, and that’s a challenge,” he said. “Our staff has discussed physicals for the entire year. All those things are going to be considered to try and be helpful and be responsible.”
Hines said if an athlete does get COVID-19, he doesn’t see the need for the AIA to require contact tracing, as that would’ve already been done through the county health department.
But while the health and safety of the athletes is most important, financial considerations are also at play.
With states looking to slowly reopen businesses, many state leaders across the country are saying large gatherings in sports stadiums may not happen until the end of the year.
It’s a concern both Hines and Robbins share, as unlike the NCAA and the NFL, which have TV contracts worth billions, high school football has none of that.
“We just don’t know,” Hines said of playing games without fans. “We are crossing our fingers. We’re hoping, but again we’re going to have to rely on the health experts and what they roll out. I know big events won’t be rolled out in Week 1, 2 or 3.”
The good news for the AIA with spring sports being canceled is there will be no large gatherings for AIA sponsored events until about Thanksgiving when the football championships begin.
“We have plenty of time unless there’s another round (of virus outbreak). It’s one of those things where everything starts to open up and then pow! We get hit again,” Hines said. “It’s very important. We have to be smart and do what people say and not go overboard so we can do these things. Football is what funds most of our programs. The AIA and our member schools starting with Week 1, it affects them financially.”
Hines said despite the spring sports season being canceled, the AIA has not had to lay off or furlough any of its employees. He hopes to have some thoughts on paper and them sent out to schools by the first of June.
“What we would like to do is have some information out so if they roll out where you can start getting into the gym or doing some things like that, you have something in place when that comes into effect,” he said. “What we are trying to do is be smart and give some recommendations.”