COUNTY — Roughly 27 miles separate Valley Union High School in Elfrida and Douglas High School. On Tuesday, Valley Union resumed official athletics while Douglas coaches, players and administrators braced themselves for another boarding meeting, Wednesday, to decide their fate.
Valley Union’s football coach Brandon Evans and volleyball coach Jenn Casady both said they are anxious to finally be able to start practicing with their teams.
“Football will start practice and acclimatization on Tuesday the 8th. Volleyball will start official practice the same day,” Valley Union’s athletic director Jeff Baker said.
Football schedules posted on the AIA365 website show the Blue Devils playing six games this season beginning Oct. 2 with the season opener at home against Superior. The schedule for volleyball was not yet posted at presstime.
“The schedules have been scratched and we should have the new schedules this week,” Baker said. “The coaches have been asked to ensure that safety measures are in place. I am working on a scrimmage here at VU versus Tombstone, the third week of September.”
The Blue Devils have had conditioning and open gyms in recent weeks to help stay in shape for the season, while Douglas athletes and coaches waited for a decision to be made by their board.
Many anticipated a decision regarding athletics to be made at the Sept. 1 DUSD meeting but a conflicted board delayed the decision.
The board refused to give athletics the okay to begin practice despite the Arizona Interscholastic Association recommendation to continue with the staggered schedule and start football practice on Tuesday.
Board members Mitch Lindemann, Mario Ramos and Natalio Sabal expressed their concerns over starting practice and risking just one person to COVID-19, despite hearing a presentation from DHS athletic director Angel Ortega.
“I really believe that with the amount of infections it’s not prudent to move ahead with athletics at this time and I believe that we should fall back on what we had previously discussed,” Lindemann said. “I would like to follow suit with the Phoenix schools and cancel for the entire fall.”
Sabal went as far as trying to cut off Ortega’s presentation saying he had heard enough and it was time to move on with the rest of the agenda. Board president Ray Borane stated that Ortega had put a presentation together and the board should allow him to finish.
“I’m concerned about transportation for the athletes,” Ramos added. “I think we should hold back at this time.”
Ortega believes what he is proposing to the board allows for a safe return to athletics.
“We are following AIA guidelines,” he said. “The AIA is following those recommendations from SMAC (Sports Medicine Advisory Committee). Above all else, we’re also following district guidelines.”
Ortega told the board that if granted DHS athletics would start with phase one which calls for no contact.
“During the past few weeks I have worked closely with our fall sports coaches,” Ortega said. “They have each created and designed their own modifications that were provided through the AIA and SMAC. Our coaches are prepared to start practice. I think we have a responsibility and owe it to our student athletes to provide resources and abilities to keep them safe and also provide them the opportunity to be active and bring some sense of normalcy back into their lives.”
DUSD Superintendent Ana Samaniego who was not at the meeting in person but did provide a statement in writing supporting the start of athletics.
“Superintendent Samaniego recommends allowing DHS athletics to resume as presented by the DHS administration,” the statement reads. “Under this reentry plan phase one it would allow for practices to initiate with 10 or less students at a time. Coaches and students would have to follow all COVID-19 guidelines in order to participate. All students will have to submit a waiver. We understand that during this pandemic year, athletics may not be the same but with safe guidelines in place I feel that our students can return to a very modified athletic program. My recommendation also includes to postpone any competition until after Labor Day.”
When asked for his thoughts regarding the DUSD board taking no action on athletics Ortega said via email, “I have made my case (at the) Sept. 1st board meeting to the (board) members and to the public. Unfortunately, I cannot and do not have a comment for you at this time, until the governing board makes a concrete decision.”
A special board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday to discuss distance learning and athletics. The meeting will be at noon in the DUSD board room. Douglas and Bisbee high schools are the only Cochise County Schools not practicing, however, the BUSD board held their vote on Tuesday after presstime.