Zone Read: Making A Case For Fall Sports

How we feelin’ here in mid-July?

Yeah, I thought so.

In normalcy we’d be just over five weeks from the start of the Arizona high school football season but that once formality has turned into a whole new reality. There’s quite a bit of divide as to what not only makes the most sense but, more importantly, is the safest solution turned resolution for all high school fall sports.

Let’s jump into this week’s “Zone Read.”

“I’m On An Island”

In a time when many decision makers have been cautious in speaking out about when’s best (and makes the most the most sense to return), Florence School District Superintendent Chris Knutsen has been bullish in his COVID-19 stance – dating back quite some time now.

“I’m really worried about the social and emotional well-being of all my students,” Knutsen explained to the “Zone Read.” “Students are social beings and four months of isolation is really doing some irreparable damage I believe to the mental health of our young people in my district and across the state.”

Florence was one of the only districts to have in-state graduations with everyone in attendance required to wear masks and stay social distanced. Knutsen also helped collaborate on a track meet last month at Poston Butte High School with around 500 participants who flew in to compete.

“I think we’ve proven that it can be done,” he noted. “What’s it going to look like on a Friday night? If we have to have everyone wear masks and keep social distance…I think people will sacrifice a little bit to be a part of Friday night lights or part of sports in the fall.”

He says this, fully aware and in tune with the pandemic’s big picture.

“COVID-19 is a serious thing,” Knutsen said. “It’s going to be with us for a long time. Part of the reason I made the decision that I did is because of my own experience.”

The Knutsen’s lost their daughter after a seven-year battle with Leukemia. 

“We did everything we could to mitigate her getting sick during that time but we didn’t stop living,” he explained. “I just think we need to do the best we can to put masks on and try to help our kids out with the social and emotional problems this pandemic is [giving] them.”

He continued.

“We can’t 100 percent protect everybody from COVID if we’re going to try to get back to living our lives. It’s not possible. But I’m just saying the damage the isolation is doing to our kids, I believe, is probably worse than what COVID is doing to our kids. I think it’s worth the risk…I know I’m on an island.”

The emotional rollercoaster of COVID-19 hasn’t just impacted the mental state of children but people of all ages everywhere. 

Please be transparent with your feelings.

Regardless of what happens with fall sports, we need each other now more than ever.

Is Seeing Believing?

Another week, another scavenger hunt press conference from Governor Ducey. His 90-minute tap dance included a whopping two minutes on the plan for students returning to in-classroom schooling.

“I want you to know that Arizona will be opening for learning this school year,” Ducey stated Thursday afternoon.

He said little to nothing else on one of the most pressing, impactful decisions he’ll make during this time of uncertainty.

The “schedule” is for students to return on August 17th.

Is it to the point now where administrators, teachers, parents and students are simply ignoring Ducey?

“As a parent we are listening to Ducey for official policy,” a high school student-athletes dad, who asked not to be identified, said to the “Zone Read.” “But more closely to the superintendents and our coaches as to how to proceed and what will likely happen. I trust the administrations to make the best decisions on the safety of our kids at the first level rather than state-wide policy makers.”

The fall sports season could fall in line with a well-thought out plan to return to classrooms. That’s the right play, at least.

At this point, who knows when that will ever happen.

Falcons Take Flight (Quickly)

“You literally had 12 hours to pack everything up.”

Keegan Freed remembers the COVID-19 organized chaos on March 14th when he and the rest of the cadets at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs were put on deadline – something they grew accustomed to quickly once they stepped on campus.

The former Sunrise Mountain High star quarterback and his roommate, Saguaro two-sports standout Clay Randall, packed up and headed to Randall’s parent’s house in Colorado Springs. Shortly after they drove to the Valley.

Freed has spent the last four months getting used to a new routine, far different from the rigors of daily life as a student-athlete at the AFA.

“It’s been a big adjustment going from all the discipline and structure at the Academy, knowing what I had to do at what certain time,”  Freed said to the “Zone Read.” “To coming home to a family of eight and everything’s madness. It was a little more of a wakeup moment because I was in such a routine.”

The now 6-foot-3, 185-pounders’s biggest pleasure being home in the west Valley has been sleeping in – a far cry from the daily 5:45AM rise leading into close to 17-straight hours of military, academic and athletic requirements at school.

“Yes, I got very little sleep [at the Academy] but my body sort of adjusted to it,” he said. “Going back it will be like, ‘Well, I got a lot of sleep so I might as well get back to the grind of things.”

The redshirt freshman wide receiver, who dazzled on scout team last fall, is taking a break from the game to focus on the high academic demands at Air Force when he returns to Colorado Springs next week.