The Arizona Interscholastic Association’s executive board voted, 5-4, to reverse its decision last week to cancel the high school winter sports season, but did add some rules.

When the season begins Jan. 18, athletes, coaches and staff members will be required to wear masks and the only fans allowed will be one or two parents/guardians per athlete. 

In addition, teams will be required to share documents with the other team proving they are following COVID-19 protocols. Those would include monitoring COVID-19 numbers and ensuring students have been cleared to play after having had the virus.

On Friday, the board voted 5-4 to cancel the sports season since Arizona has the nation’s highest rate of coronavirus hospitalizations. The board’s vote came after the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee recommended it cancel the season.

However, the board voted 5-4 to bring the matter back for reconsideration due to the outcry.

The board members who voted in favor of moving forward with winter sports were Marcus Williams, Chandler Unified School District athletic director;  Jeannine Brandel, 4A Conference representative; Camille Casteel, Arizona Superintendents Association representative; Jim Love, Arizona School Boards Association representative; and Jim Dean, 5A Conference representative.

Williams and Brandell said it would be better for students to compete under AIA COVID-19 rules rather than for clubs that may not enforce any rules. They noted athletes would more than likely look for opportunities to play competitively if they couldn't play for their schools, whether it was with club or loosely organized organizations.

They also said they were worried about students' mental health deteriorating along with their motivation to do well in school.

Dean pointed out mitigation plans are already in place and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Maricopa County Health Department have said schools are not contributing significantly to the spread of the virus.

Lastly, many of them pointed out that participating in sports is a choice.

Those who said winter sports should be canceled pointed out Arizona's COVID-19 numbers are skyrocketing and the medical profession as a whole supported last week's decision to cancel the season.

"I don't go to athletic directors for medical advice," said William Duarte, 1A Conference representative.

He was joined by Zack Munoz, 6A Conference representative, who said the protocols in place last fall weren't uniformly enforced and many youths are asymptomatic.

Tim Carter, Yavapai County Schools superintendent, said that if people "looked at the science and looked at the data, there would be no decision to be made."

Arizona is leading the world in COVID-19 cases and "it's going to continue for some time," Carter said.

It makes no sense for students who can't sit in a classroom together because of the virus to be able to go out and play with their teammates, he said.

Ricky Greer, the 2A Conference representative, also voted against moving forward.

Board president Toni Corona, who is the 3A Conference representative and athletic director at Safford High School, isn't allowed to vote.

She pointed out the decision was a difficult one and called for everyone to remember that the board members, regardless of how they voted, truly care about the well-being of student athletes. 

According to the Arizona Department of Health Services Graham County has "substantial transmission" of the virus. As of Dec. 20, the latest figures available, Graham County had a positivity rate of 23.4% and more than 15% of those going to the hospital have COVID-19-like symptoms. The area also has 418 cases per 100,000 people. 

Greenlee County has a positivity rate of 20.8%, 260 cases per 100,000 people and the same hospital rate as Graham County.

In order to get to "minimal transmission," the county would have to have a positivity rate of less than 5%, fewer than 10 cases per 100,000 people and fewer than 5% of people visiting hospitals with COVID-19-like symptoms.

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