DOUGLAS —With no guarantee there will be games this fall, Douglas High School athletics was given the okay by its school board to begin a limited practice schedule starting this week and in which teams must adhere to specific guidelines.

The approval, for what is being called “Phase 1” came at a special board meeting Sept. 9 where 20-25 people, many of them athletes, expressed frustration and displeasure at being one of the last schools in Cochise County to begin what many are asking for an attempted sense of return to normalcy.

“My child has been preparing all off season for this upcoming season and I feel the children should be practicing,” said Richard Yanez, whose son is a football player. “We owe it to our children to get them back out there and put some normality back into their lives. I am aware of the current pandemic. I feel having our children in a controlled environment is what needs to happen. Now that our numbers are down we owe it to them to allow it.”

Maggie Nieblas, a healthcare professional in Douglas who has a daughter on the spirit squad and another as an assistant coach, stated she feels its important students resume fall sports.

“After hearing at the last school board meeting that included all phases coaches will implement in order to resume I do not see a problem in getting athletes back on the field,” she said. “COVID-19 numbers continue to decline in our area and AIA has approved sports to resume. With proper education by the parents to their athletes and proper guidance by the coaches I am in support of resuming fall sports.”

Marcus Torres Thomas, a member of the Bulldog football team, was one of several players requesting the board allow DHS athletics to begin practice.

“Our coaches have spent countless hours coming up with a plan for us to return safely to play. My parents are all for me returning and playing football again. They think it is good for me to get out and do something I enjoy. It would be amazing to get back on the field and play again.”

Football, cross country, golf and spiritline practice will start Monday. Volleyball will begin on Wednesday at the DHS tennis courts. Swimming is still being determined as to when it will start.

Football will practice in two separate groups on the practice field behind the DHS gym. The spiritline will practice in three groups on the front lawn at DHS.

School administrators are cautioning that all athletes must be cleared through the DHS athletics office before they can participate with their respective teams. They are being required to wear some kind of facial covering while maintaining social distancing.

“Teams will be following guidelines provided by the AIA/SMAC, and have added modifications to fit their specific sport and facilities they will be using,” DHS athletic director Angel Ortega said after the meeting. “The majority of the differences consist of strict social distancing between the athletes, sanitation of equipment, and of course the use of masks. During this phase they can condition and focus on movement and mechanical techniques specific to their sport, but most importantly, they cannot make any type of ‘full contact’ with one another.”

The board’s decision did not include the acceptance of games or travel.

“At this point, we are unsure, but because of what is known as the ‘acclimatization’ period by AIA all teams must have a minimum of three weeks before any competition can begin to take place,” Ortega added. “That pushes us back until at least October 2.”

While some schools have their athletic schedules already in place for the upcoming fall season, Douglas High School does not.

“As for our region, most teams are still either in phase one or haven’t begun at all,” Ortega said. “Once we have sufficient information, then we can create and modify schedules.”

DUSD Superintendent Ana Samaniego attended the meeting telephonically. She reiterated her statement made at the Sept. 1 meeting where she supports the return of athletics to DUSD.

“I know board members you have a lot of concerns,” she said. “But I think we owe it to our students. We know we’re not going to have a traditional athletic season. The coaches have agreed to do whatever they need to do to keep the kids safe. I think it can safely be done.”

DHS principal Randy Walker said the AIA has approved practices but not games yet.

“I know when I was younger it would have probably driven me nuts to not be able to get out onto the fields and do those things,” he said. “I completely understand where the athletes are coming from. I believe we can do it safely, keep the social distancing and do the cleaning. My recommendation is to begin with phase one and see how it goes.”

Walker admonished that if any coach is caught not following the recommendations set for with the start of practice, everything will be shut down and there will be no sports this season.

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