Santa Cruz vs. Round Valley 11/23/19

Mauricio Lopes, left, of Santa Cruz attempts to tackle Round Valley's Marc Irigoyen during the Class 2A semifinal Saturday November 23, 2019 at Gilbert Campo Verde.

The Arizona sports community has been on pins and needles waiting for some new information regarding a return to high school sports. A road map is now in place, but questions remain.

After a meeting of the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s executive board Wednesday, the AIA released a calendar with target start dates for all fall sports amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, there is an important caveat to remember. None of these sports will actually return until Gov. Doug Ducey announces a start date for in-person instruction. There is no official word from the governor on when that will begin.

A press release from the AIA stated, “Note that the resumption of all athletics and activities are subject to change based upon changes to national, state or local guidelines, or government directives.”

The fall sports calendar, with targeted start dates for each sport:

Football

  • First practice: Sept. 7
  • First competition: Sept. 30-Oct. 3
  • Championships: Dec. 11-12 (4A-6A & Open)

Volleyball

  • First practice: Aug. 31
  • First competition: Sept. 16
  • Championships: Nov. 12-21

Golf

  • First practice: Aug. 17
  • First competition: Aug. 24
  • Championships: Oct. 26-29 (Div. I); Nov. 2-5 (Div. II)

Cross country

  • First practice: Aug. 24
  • First competition: Sept. 9
  • Championships: Nov. 12-13

Swimming & diving

  • First practice: Aug. 24
  • First competition: Sept. 14
  • Championships: Nov. 5-7

Badminton

  • First practice: Aug. 31
  • First competition: Sept. 14
  • Championships: Nov. 7 (Individuals); Nov. 9-12 (Teams)

Fall soccer

  • First practice: Aug. 31
  • First competition: Sept. 16
  • Championships: Nov. 4-7

Classes 1A-3A are still discussing options for the length of their football regular seasons and when they want to hold football state playoffs.

Surveys were sent out to all 275 AIA member schools, and the AIA and its associated committees took that feedback into consideration before releasing the fall sports calendar dates.

“The health and safety of our student participants, coaches, officials and essential personnel, including volunteers, is the primary concern for the return of interscholastic athletics and activities,” AIA Executive Director David Hines said in a statement. “We are very grateful to those who share our commitment of a return to these highly beneficial educational activities and athletics.”

The AIA executive board voted for a staggered beginning to fall sports because member schools were concerned about the ability to create a “uniform interscholastic environment” with each district being autonomous in its decision-making.

Executive board president Toni Corona, also the athletic director at Safford High, said the board owed it to the member schools to provide a direction for fall sports.

“It may be challenging to get everything going for all the schools at one time but with good communication, we can provide the best possible experience for our students in this unprecedented time,” she said in a statement. “This board and the AIA staff will continue to provide information and guidelines as we proceed.”

The elephant in the room is Ducey’s decision on when to start in-person instruction. But it’s not the only issue.

With each school district making its own decisions, some schools will have an inherent advantage over others if they return to in-person education sooner. For example, if a school decides not to start in-person instruction until the end of September, its volleyball team will be a month behind schools that begin practice on the target date of Aug. 31.

There’s also a disconnect between football coaches on the appropriate time to start the season. Many Valley-based coaches want to start the regular season Oct. 2. Another group of 35 coaches, many in southern Arizona, wrote a letter advocating for spring football.

Many issues are still on the table. But the release of the calendar at least provides a blueprint from which to start.

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Brian Wright is the sports editor at PinalCentral. He can be reached at bwright@pinalcentral.com.

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