Coolidge vs. AZ College Prep

Coolidge running back Greg Rodriguez runs for a touchdown to open the scoring Aug. 30, 2019, in the Bears’ 30-7 victory over Chandler Arizona College Prep.

COOLIDGE — In a season that’s going to be anything but normal, Coolidge football fans will at least feel connected with their roots due to their opponents in the first couple weeks.

After months of uncertainty over whether a season would even take place and, if it did, how it would look, last week the Arizona Interscholastic Association approved the conditions under which a football season could proceed, giving the green light to schools to finalize their schedules.

For the Bears, this means a seven-game regular season, down from the usual 10, beginning Oct. 2 and running through Nov. 13. Most of those games will come against regional opponents American Leadership Academy-Ironwood, Mesa Eastmerk, ALA-Gilbert North and Gilbert Christian.

However, the season begins with a couple treats for traditionalist football fans. First, on Oct. 2, is the big rivalry game at home against Florence. Typically, this game comes later in the season, so this will be an instant test of how the Bears look following the graduation of quarterback Valentine Rodriguez.

Then the next week, there is the return of another rivalry that has been on hiatus in recent years, when the Bears will travel to Eloy to take on Santa Cruz Valley. The Dust Devils are among the key contenders for the 2A conference following the promotion of Thatcher and Eagar Round Valley.

Rounding out the Bears’ home schedule is Safford, which will be visiting Coolidge on Oct. 30.

There was speculation that the dates on the AIA’s fall sports calendar could be pushed back if the executive board felt COVID-19 metrics were not yet at appropriate levels to return to athletic activities.

Instead, those dates will be followed. For football, that means official practices were allowed to start Monday, with the regular season kicking off Oct. 2. Volleyball practice began Monday, and its regular season will start Sept. 16.

The executive board is comprised of representatives from AIA member schools, including board president Toni Corona, who is the athletic director at Safford High School.

“With this data and the state’s recorded number of COVID-19 cases declining over the past two weeks, the board felt competitive sports and activities at the member schools can be successful within recommended guidelines,” the AIA stated in a press release.

The revised recommended guidelines are covered in a 17-page document, which is available to the public on the AIA’s website at azpreps365.com. This comes on the heels of the AIA releasing a document that covers several sport modifications that are designed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 during athletic activities.

“I would like to say on behalf of the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, especially for the sport of football, we would not have been able to make this decision until this time right now based on the metrics,” AIA executive director David Hines said in a statement. “So the metrics have gotten to a place that we can start football practice. That we can start the heat acclimatization (guidelines). That we can get kids in a helmet and shoulder pads and begin doing work.”

Other fall sports, such as golf, badminton and soccer, have already begun practices. Golf has also started official competitions.

“To say we are happy to be where we are now is an understatement,” Hines said. “The board members really took their time to make sure that this could be done safely. We think it definitely can. With the help of everyone at our member schools doing their part, we can absolutely make this a memorable season.”

The winter sports season will start one week later than planned to accommodate the extension of the fall sports season.

Coolidge football schedule:

  • Oct. 2 — Florence
  • Oct. 9 — at Santa Cruz Valley
  • Oct. 16 — ALA-Ironwood
  • Oct. 23 — Eastmark
  • Oct. 30 — Safford
  • Nov. 6 — at ALA-Gilbert North
  • Nov. 13 — at Gilbert Christian
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