ARIZONA, USA — It would have seemed almost impossible two months ago that high school football practices might start as soon as Monday, Sept. 7. In July, Arizona had some of the worst COVID-19 numbers in the country.
However, after weeks of declining cases and hospitalizations from the virus, Arizona high school football teams are cleared to hit the gridiron once again.
“Everyone in sports wants a comeback story,” Kristina Wilson, a doctor at Phoenix Children's’ Hospital, said.
Wilson was part of an advisory committee that helped create guidelines to start fall sports including football.
“Sports aren’t returning how sports have always been. They are going to look different,” Wilson said.
That could be more social distancing practiced, less sharing of equipment or closing locker rooms.
“If we don’t do this correctly," Wilson said. "We won’t be playing a football season in October.”
The committee used state guidelines to help determine how sports could return as well. Almost everyone is in the "moderate" or middle category statewide, allowing for a hybrid model of teaching. This translates to allowing practices to resume as well.
Wilson would like schools to be in the "minimal" category before games resume, which would put the outbreak numbers under five percent.
However the final decision on sports falls to each school district.
Twenty-three schools have canceled fall sports completely, and if numbers spike more cancellations could follow.
According to the AIA, the start dates of each sport were identified based on information received from member schools regarding student and personnel safety, and what is most easily administered by athletic directors and coaches.
The AIA says the new schedule allows for schools and districts who are not able to start on the earliest possible date to join competition when feasible and still be eligible for the postseason, provided those school teams meet conference minimums.
"The health and safety of our student participants, coaches, officials and essential personnel, including volunteers, is the primary concern for the return of interscholastic athletics and activities," AIA Executive Director David Hines said in a statement. "We are very grateful to those who share our commitment of a return to these highly beneficial educational activities and athletics."
For the schools that have already canceled their fall seasons, the AIA said it will continue to work with those schools to offer opportunities for students to participate.