Coolidge Florence football

Florence quarterback Christopher Walter hands the ball off to running back Joshua Maignan against Coolidge in October.

PHOENIX — High school fall sports have the green light to begin, and the Gophers will be facing some new foes.

After an extensive meeting Wednesday of the Arizona Interscholastic Association Executive Board, during which it conducted a vote to endorse revised recommended guidelines from its Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, the board gave its blessing to move forward.

Because everything had to be moved around to make schedules work, the Florence football team actually moved regions from the 3A Central to the 3A South. This puts them in the largest region in 3A, with seven teams — San Tan Foothills, Thatcher, Safford, Tucson Sabino, Tucson Pusch Ridge and Tucson Sahuarita.

However, two of those teams are from Tucson school districts, which are vowing not to resume athletics until in-person schooling is allowed to happen. Only Pusch Ridge, a private school, is currently on the Gophers’ schedule.

PinalCentral obtained a letter in which superintendents representing all of Pima County signed said the county’s high schools will not participate in any athletic activities until in-person instruction is allowed to resume amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“To ensure the safety of our student athletes and coaches, Pima County School Districts will not schedule or participate in sports competitions until high schools have returned to in-person instruction and we have received clearance from the Pima County Health Department,” the letter states.

The Gophers’ season so far kicks off Oct. 2 with the big rivalry game against Coolidge, and ends against Pusch Ridge on Nov. 13.

There was speculation that the dates on the AIA’s fall sports calendar could be pushed back if the committee 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 started Monday, with the regular season kicking off Oct. 2. Volleyball practice began Aug. 31, 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.

Football schedules for Class 3A are already on the AIA website, but other conferences have yet to release schedules. Qualifications for making the postseason have also been modified for fall sports. According to the AIA, those qualifications are being reviewed and will appear on its website “when ready,” along with season dates and team schedules.

“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.

Florence football schedule:

  • Oct. 2 — at Coolidge
  • Oct. 9 — vs. Fountain Hills
  • Oct. 16 — vs. Gilbert Christian
  • Oct. 23 — vs. San Tan Foothills
  • Oct. 30 — at Thatcher
  • Nov. 6 — vs. Safford
  • Nov. 13 — at Pusch Ridge
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