Zone Read: If No Decision Now, Then When?

Hope everyone had a safe holiday weekend and please continue to wear a mask and stay out of this ridiculous heat if at all possible.

If you would told me a year ago the majority of this column would consist on what you’re about to read, I’d probably inform you about my lovely ocean front property for sale in Yuma.

Expect the unexpected, right?

Anyway, here’s this week’s “Zone Read.”

No New News

There were a few whispers inside high school circles Arizona Governor Doug Ducey would announce Thursday the high school fall sports calendar would be eliminated or potentially pushed back to the spring, as some have believed to be the best option, with COVID-19 cases cases continuing to spike across the state.

Ducey’s hour-plus, mostly word salad, presser (he did bring up memes and ringtones…sigh) made no mention of prep sports in the coming weeks or even months. In fact, he didn’t even address schools restarting (with kids on campus) at all in his opening comments until he was questioned about it much later in the session.

“We’re not going to play politics,” Ducey said about when schools could reopen and if he felt any pressure from other states to react one way or the other. “We’re going to do what’s best for Arizona. We’ve got to work with parents, teachers and superintendents.”

It’s pretty simple, no kids back on campus means no Friday night lights this fall – at least in the foreseeable long-term future. The AIA remains in a tricky position because, as they’ve done since the pandemic hit back in March, they’re following Governor Ducey and the CDC. They will act accordingly with what schools do. 

Well, here we sit nearing mid-July and everyone is still left in the dark. Yes, I understand there is no crystal ball and that is why…

…it makes sense to shut down fall high school sports on so many different fronts. First and obviously foremost: safety.

Safety for the student-athletes, coaches, teachers, administrators, staffers. You get the idea. 

Pushing fall sports to spring brings hurdles but it’s doable – especially with months to figure out logistics such as sharing fields with other sports, re-scheduling, deciding how many games to play, etc. 

Sure, it’s far from ideal for seniors who hope to get further experience/tape/exposure in hopes of playing at the next level but feel fortunate you’ll (hopefully) get your senior season, unlike all the 2020 spring athletes who never had that same opportunity.

Let’s please stop the “even if kids get COVID, they’re all going to live and be just fine” argument.

Step back and look at the bigger picture. It’s not that hard.

Yes, wear a darn mask.

A League Of Their Own (For Now)

As predicted, the Ivy League was the first conference to push their fall sports calendar back to January. 

The decision impacts a number of local players who either play or are going to be playing Ivy League football moving forward.

One of those is former Saguaro standout, now Harvard freshman running back Israel Benjamin who, like every other fall student-athlete in the league, is adjusting to COVID-19 life once again.

“We had a web seminar from the athletic director from Harvard talking to all the student-athletes who play fall sports,” Benjamin said to the “Zone Read.” “I definitely wasn’t shocked but I was kind of saddened. There’s good in everything, so right now I’m kind of just looking forward to seeing and hoping they reevaluate and say we’re good to go in the spring for a season.”

Benjamin said Harvard is allowing incoming freshmen and a select number of non-freshmen students who applied for a petition to stay on campus for the fall semester whenever that begins.

In a “normal” football season, Crimson student-athletes would report on August 20th with the school year and football season (Ivy League doesn’t play non-conference games) both starting in September. With the pandemic, Benjamin isn’t sure when he’ll leave for Cambridge, Mass.

Another odd dynamic for Benjamin and every other Ivy League fall season student-athlete is adjusting their workouts and training with the competition calendar now pushed back to 2021. Harvard will have “small group workouts” and eventually “small practices.” 

Using the facilities on campus is also a wait-and-see situation according to Benjamin.

“It’s just a wild time right now,” he explained. “In terms of communication with coaches…it’s been a hectic time. I think the [Harvard] coaches have handled it all very well.” 

Benjamin said he was told the University is testing student-athletes for COVID every three days.  

Welcome To Camp Canceled

Oh, what a difference a year makes. 

This is usually around the time on the calendar many teams from around Arizona escape to cooler climates in-state or possibly to southern California like I experienced with Saguaro at Cal Lutheran University two summers ago.

Last year, it was a trip to Ash Fork with South Mountain.

“Camps are important for bonding and bridging within relationships,” former South Mountain co-head coach, now Desert Edge co-head coach Marcus Carter said to the “Zone Read.” “We loved the idea of teaming up players who don’t normally talk and watch their relationship blossom. Connections are being made and the team is becoming stronger. It’s always been about more than X’s and O’s for us.”

Not only do teams miss out on the overall experience both on and off the field, small towns and schools like Ash Fork don’t get a summer revenue boost for the use of the facilities and staff. 

“Coach Marcus says, ‘We leave as a hand and come back as a fist,'” twin brother Mark Carter explained. “The time spent is something that I’m very disappointed we have to miss [out on]. Also, we love the people who host us. They’re losing out, as well.”

It all sort of fits the theme of 2020, doesn’t it?