Masks can come off for high school winter playoffs, spring sports, AIA board votes

Mountain Pointe point guard Jason Kimbrough Jr. makes a diving jump for the layup, only to be blocked by St. Mary’s forward Jeremiah Cherry. (Photo by Alina Nelson/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – High school athletes will not be required to wear masks during spring sports competition and neither will winter sports athletes during playoffs, the Arizona Interscholastic Association Executive Board voted Tuesday

The decision comes after the Sports Medicine Advisory committee recommended removing the mask mandate for outdoor spring sports.

The only exception is for boys volleyball. It was recommended they should continue wearing masks for play.

The committee also recommended finishing the winter regular season with masks. The removal of the mask mandate only applies to those in the field of competition, including officials. All coaches, players on the bench and spectators will continue to be required to wear masks.

The AIA has had about 160 positive COVID cases out of roughly 10 to 12,000 athletes participating in winter sports, AIA Executive Director David Hines said.

“We also have information that the medical professionals get in regard to hospital capacity, hospital cases, hospital COVID cases, in ICU, in hospitals, etc.,” Hines said. “They absolutely admit the numbers are coming down, getting much better.”

According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, the amount of intensive care unit beds being used by COVID patients has decreased by 30% in the last month. A 46% decrease in the number of COVID cases statewide in the last 14 days has also been seen, the New York Times reports.

The first motion the AIA board voted on was to not require masks be worn by athletes playing spring outdoor sports during competition, excluding boys volleyball in accordance with the recommendation.

There was initial concern about distinguishing between indoor and outdoor sports because according to data the AIA board received, there was not much of a difference between the amount of COVID-19 cases for soccer (an outdoor sport) and basketball (an indoor sport).

“So I don’t know why we would differentiate boys volleyball for the spring season. If you look at the trend that Joe (Paddock, Assistant Executive Director) gave us, it has been a steady decline,” said Dr. Camille Casteel, Superintendent of Chandler Unified School District. “I would support all sports having the same aspects.”

Despite this concern, the original motion to only include outdoor sports was kept and passed in a 5-3 vote.

The next motion was to continue with the current mask mandate for indoor winter sports but to remove the mask mandate for outdoor sports for the remainder of the season. This motion failed by a 6-3 vote.

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Issues with this motion included concerns about the inconsistency across the different sports happening at the same time.

“It is extremely difficult with the consistencies when you’re at a site and you’re monitoring multiple events going on to stay consistent and be supportive when it isn’t consistently enforced,” said Renee Regoli, Athletic Director of Queen Creek High School.

The next motion was to remove the mask mandate for winter sports athletes and officials while they are in the field of competition regardless if the sport was indoor or outdoor, beginning with the playoffs. This motion passed by a 6-3 vote.

Once the motion passed to allow all winter sports to remove the mask mandate in the postseason, the board made another motion to remove the stipulation to require boys volleyball to follow a mask mandate in the spring that had been included in the first motion. This motion passed with a 7-2 vote.

Lastly, clarification was made regarding the spirit lines who have their state competition this weekend.

According to Paddock, the judges, as well as a limited number of spectators, are socially distanced away from the team competing. In addition, only one team will be performing at a time while all the other teams will be isolated in classrooms or other places away from the competition floor.

The motion to allow spirit lines to remove their masks during competition was passed with an 8-0 vote.

The Sports Medicine Advisory committee was also “adamant that if things did begin to worsen that this decision will be revisited and they may have a different recommendation should the metrics begin going the opposite direction,” Paddock said.

Kaylee Connors KAY-lee con-nors (she/her/hers)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Kaylee Connors expects to graduate in December 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a certificate in marketing. Connors is an intern for Sun Devil Athletics Media Relations.

Alina Nelson uh-LEE-nuh nEHl-suhn
Sports Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Alina Nelson is a sports journalist and photographer who expects to graduate in August 2021. Nelson, who has seven years of photography experience, is working for Cronkite Sports this spring.