Programs Prepare to Follow New AIA COVID-19 Recommendations

On the same afternoon Gov. Doug Ducey addressed the state of Arizona on the progression of reopening from COVID-19, the AIA released its recommended guidelines to get athletes and coaches back to athletic activities on Thursday as the valley heads into the blistering Arizona summer.

The AIA addressed four factors in returning to action with no decision on the fall season. “These factors include the continued presence of COVID-19 in the community, heat-related illness, injury prevention upon return to sport after a prolonged period of relative inactivity, and the pre-participation physical.”

The return includes three phases and is based on the White House Phases for ‘Opening Up America Again.’

“We are not guaranteed to have a fall season,” AIA Executive Director David Hines stated in a release. “We are preparing to be ready on time, but it will all depend on how this situation develops as the summer goes on. We just ask that schools, coaches, players and parents consider and utilize the guidelines until we get back to normal.”

Some teams have taken to Twitter asking for donations to keep their gear sanitized to follow the AIA’s guidelines. While it was not clarified in the email or guidelines, it is believed the AIA’s phases align with Arizona’s phases of reopening. Gov. Ducey clarified on Thursday that the state is still in Phase One and did not unveil a timetable for the beginning of Phase Two.

“The guidelines are not anything that we didn’t expect,” Glendale Head Football Coach, Robert York, told Sports360AZ. “I’d like to know what phase we are in right now. It is going to be difficult for us with the ten-person restriction during ‘Phase 1’ and we are a smaller program.”

The Glendale Cardinals listed 52 student-athletes on their 2019 football roster. The AIA currently lists Glendale’s enrollment at 1,895 students on the campus which was moved to the 5A Conference for sports based on enrollment. The guidelines currently state, “Small group activities are permitted for 10 people or less with coach onsite.”

Along with a ten-person restriction, Phase One also calls for a daily COVID-19 screening for all athletes and coaches with a questionnaire, logging of their questionnaire and daily temperature, as well as disinfecting and cleaning all personal equipment and materials before and after practice, along with any time there is contact between two persons. Phase Two would allow 50 people or less to gather.

“We have a plan ready to roll out when the time comes that is in line with the AIA recommendations and guidelines,” York continued. “All we can do is wait and get after it when we are given the green light.”

Along with the phases, the AIA recognizes the lack of outside practice teams have conducted in 2020 and as the temperature rises towards 110-degrees in the valley, the AIA  is asking programs to create a period to adjust and acclimatize to the heat.

Another hurdle teams could face is following specific guidelines from AIA’s recommendations along with specific school districts recommendations. Districts are still considering plans to get students back on campus and in classrooms along with organizing a safe way to continue athletics.

“We haven’t been given official dates or guidelines yet from the district,” Liberty first-year head coach, Colin Thomas said. “We have had an offseason plan the last 5 years that we believe in and has worked for us. Ultimately all I can focus on is what I can control, which is when we are allowed to get back on campus to ensure the safety of our players and to work our tails off to prepare for the season.”

 Liberty is coming off its first program state championship defeating Red Mountain in the 6A State Championship. LHS was recorded as the home of 2,449 students last year and has been rapidly growing over the past ten years. Liberty is also one of many large schools to have a large varsity, JV, and two freshmen rosters. Guidelines could play an impact on JV and freshmen rosters in their development over summer.

The situation is fluid as COVID-19 is still present in daily life. According to Gov. Ducey, State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman will release guidance for schools on June 1 and plans for schools to be back in session in fall.