Casa Grande Union running back D.J. Johnson stiff arms a Tucson Sahuaro defender during a game Oct. 25 in Tucson. Both Casa Grande high schools, CG Union and Vista Grande, were ready to return to campus for practice, but the school district put a halt to those plans at a board meeting Tuesday night.

Everyone wants to return to football. The problem is, everyone has a different idea of when that should happen. There are too many cooks in the kitchen.

Last week, the Arizona Interscholastic Association released its recommended guidelines for returning to sports. However, the AIA made it clear that it does not have the authority to tell member schools when to return for practice.

Those decisions can only be made by each individual district, which comes down to the superintendents and the school boards.

This piecemeal approach is already causing problems. Casa Grande Union coach Jake Barro and Vista Grande coach Chris Semore had the rug pulled out from under them Tuesday night.

Barro had already told PinalCentral earlier in the day that he was returning to practice Wednesday. Semore said he was going to return to practice Monday (June 8).

But at the Casa Grande Union High School District board meeting Tuesday night, Superintendent Steve Bebee announced those returns to the field would not be happening until Gov. Doug Ducey moved into Phase II of his plan to reopen the state during the COVID-19 pandemic. In other words, that return is on hold indefinitely for the two Casa Grande schools.

Barro posted to the Casa Grande Cougars Football Facebook page Tuesday night after he heard the news.

“I want to start by sincerely apologizing,” he wrote. “But the school board and school district tonight decided that they did not want us to begin practice tomorrow. They did not give me any more information ... I am sorry for the short notice. This was in no way our decision.”

Randy Robbins, athletic director at CG Union and also the football team’s defensive coordinator, said he understood the decision by Bebee and the board. But he said that is tough news for a coach to receive.

“Our coaches are feeling pressure (to return to the field),” Robbins said. “They have a schedule. They have a football game they have to play Aug. 21.”

Robbins said Barro was upset, but he added the coach understood the board’s decision.

Like Barro, Semore was similarly blindsided by the news.

“It kind of took us all back a bit,” he said by phone Wednesday morning. “People are frustrated, and people are upset.”

Semore added the communication was lacking and that “information has been hard to come by.”

In an email to PinalCentral, Bebee said he had been in communication with the principals at both high schools in the district. He also said he spoke to both athletic directors prior to Tuesday night’s board meeting.

“It appears that our coaches and/or our ADs may have jumped the gun with communication to families and athletes about the potential return of athletics this fall without district consent,” he said in the email.

This strikes me as Bebee’s way of passing the buck. Instead of taking ownership for the breakdown in communication, it was the coaches and/or athletic directors who erred when they “may have jumped the gun.”

But miscommunication isn’t the only problem. With every school district in the state making its own decisions about when to return, not surprisingly, those decisions are all over the map.

Some districts have already given the green light to return. Florence Unified, which includes Florence, Poston Butte and San Tan Foothills, is one of those districts.

Those high schools were able to return to practice Monday. Other high schools in the Valley have already returned as well.

Now compare that to schools in Tucson.

The Pima County Public School Superintendents have agreed that practice will not resume for any school until July 1.

That’s incredible. That means every high school in the Tucson area will be at least one month behind the schools that have already started workouts. They could be at least three weeks behind dozens of other schools.

Talk about not having a level playing field.

Robbins is concerned about that lack of fairness. While the AIA can’t tell all schools when to return to practice, it could make a change to the schedules.

In order to mitigate risks and make things more fair to the schools that will have a late start practicing, Robbins would like to see the regular season pushed back to September. He said it would give teams that are already behind the 8-ball more time to prepare, in addition to having slightly lower temperatures — even by just a few degrees — for kickoffs.

The extreme heat and a potential lack of conditioning for many teams is a major risk to the health of players.

Robbins sent an email to AIA assistant executive director Joe Paddock on Wednesday expressing those concerns and asked if the AIA has considered moving the start of the football season back to early September.

Moving games to September could alleviate some problems this disjointed approach has created.

But the reality of the significant differences of when schools will resume practice is a problem that likely won’t be fixed.


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