AIA: Winter high school sports can resume on Jan. 5

Wrestling and other winter sports can resume on Jan. 5, the Arizona Interscholastic Association announced Thursday. (File photo by Travis Whitaker/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – Amid rising cases of COVID-19 in the state, David Hines met with state health officials recently to gain insight for the high school winter sports season. The executive director of the Arizona Interscholastic Association recommended delaying the start of basketball, soccer and wrestling until January 2021.

He got his wish.

The AIA announced Thursday winter sports can resume Jan. 5, with the last allowed day of competition Feb. 19. Practice will resume for a minimum of 14 days before competing.

“We are pleased that the executive board was able to provide a winter sports season with this adjustment in dates,” AIA Sports Information Coordinator Seth Polansky said. “The AIA’s goal from the day everything was shut down last spring was to make sure every sport offered to our member schools had a championship at the end of it for 2020-21. We implemented a phased-in approach for the fall sports which proved successful. Now we are going to postpone the winter sports so proper safety protocols can be put in place.

“Our goal is to provide opportunities for as many student-athletes as possible, and we know that this is a step in the right direction.”

The decision may come as a disappointment for those conditioned for season-specific training and scheduling but was made because of the growing number of COVID-19 cases across the Valley.

People under the age of 20 account for 15% of the COVID-19 cases across the state. Arizona reported more than 4,000 new overall cases for the first time since July, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.

“We feel that the students are safer within the school environment than not to be in school at all,” Hines said. “Delaying the start of the season will give our coaches and administrators time to implement safety protocols and put sports modifications in place. The executive board felt it was necessary to fight for these students to have a chance. They see the need in the schools they are representing.”

The hope in postponing winter sports is that athletes and staff will utilize the time to familiarize themselves with new safety guidelines.

Athletes who come in contact with a team or group not affiliated with school won’t be allowed to participate in practice or competition until 14 days have passed since the meeting. No scrimmages, out-of-state competitions, invitational and regional tournaments will be permitted.

Additionally, spectators will not be permitted to attend any winter sport events until deemed appropriate. The AIA will be in contact with high schools on a regular basis to evaluate when fans can return.

The status of spring sports was also addressed, as the deadline to resume winter sports coincided with the initial Feb. 8 practice report date for spring athletes. They will now begin their 14-day training period one week later on Feb. 15, but this will not affect the previously scheduled championships for spring sports.

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Cole Cusumano was born and raised in Staten Island, New York, but has lived in Arizona for more than 14 years. He expects to graduate in December 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. He is a digital reporter for Cronkite News with an emphasis on sports.