COUNTY — In a time of uncertainty, one thing is certain. High school athletics is returning to schools across the state.

Not all schools are on the same time table but the hope is to have all the athletes resuming workouts and practices in the next couple of months. The Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) released guidelines and three phase plans to return to athletics at the end of May.

According to the recommended guidelines for returning to athletic activity, “there are general considerations for returning to play in youth sports that apply to all phases until there is an effective vaccine for COVID-19 and the community returns to business as usual (phase 3). These considerations include promoting behaviors that reduce the spread of illness, maintaining a healthy environment, maintaining healthy operations, and having protocols and procedures in place for when someone gets sick.”

The first phase of the plan is small group workouts with no more than 10 people, self monitoring for COVID-19 symptoms, temperature checks and no shared equipment — including water bottles. Phase two allows groups with a maximum of 50 people to practice together, the use of shared equipment — like balls — and disinfecting of equipment measures in place. The third and final phase is athletics return to “normal” like they did prior to the pandemic.

The AIA will also allow schools to waive an athlete’s physical for 2020-2021, as long as they have a physical on file from the 2019-2020 school year. This does not, however, include upcoming athletes from the Class of 2024, or new athletes who did not participate in a sport last school year.

School responses

Tombstone and St. David high schools have started phase one of the AIA guidelines. Brian Miller, athletic director for Tombstone High School, said football started their summer workouts last week and the rest of the sports began this week. Since they can’t have contact with one another or equipment Miller said most of what is being done is conditioning. When asked why they took the initiative to start as early as possible Miller said there was a demand.

“The coaches wanted to start and so did the kids,” he said.

TUSD had parents sign a waiver which included the AIA guidelines before the athlete could participate in the summer workouts.

John Watts, St. David’s athletic director, sent the Herald/Review a copy of their phase one plan. The plan lists they are allowing groups to have a maximum of 30 people per field court with proper social distancing and allows the use of ball but only to be used by one person, no sharing, and they have to be disinfected after being used. Watts said via email there isn’t a set date when they will transition to phase two.

Buena and Bisbee high schools don’t appear to be taking the field this month but target July as their return date. Bisbee Athletic Director Mike Frosco said they are waiting for instruction from the superintendent since the district buildings are currently closed.

Buena head coaches met with Principal Kristen Hale and Athletic Director Greg Duce last week to come up with a plan for both the superintendent and the governing board to approve. The next SVUSD governing board meeting is scheduled for June 16.

Athletes at Douglas High School will begin a “Phased Return to Athletics/Activities” beginning this next week.

According to Douglas High School Athletic Director Angel Ortega, individual athletic programs will be allowed the opportunity to begin in-person summer workouts/practices following a carefully drafted four-phase approach with guidance from the NFHS/SMAC/AIA and designed by DHS athletic officials, coaches as well as members of the Student Leadership Council. Each phase will be for a minimum of two weeks.

Ortega added there will be no Peak Performance Testing (PPT) program this summer and each sport will have their own individual workout routine.

All athletes participating must provide their own face covering and water bottle which needs to be pre-filled. All athletes and coaches must be free of any symptoms or illness. No personal gear will be allowed to be kept in DHS lockers until the start of phase three. All athletes must arrive dressed for workout. They will not be allowed to change on campus and all workouts/practices are closed to non-athletes.

“DHS and DUSD understands the importance of returning our student athletes to their sports and competition,“ Ortega recently told the DUSD board. “We will return to participation in a phased approach maintaining safety guidelines. … It is important to understand, because of the diversity in sports, each sport will not be treated equally.”

ALL DHS athletes must be cleared through the DHS Athletics Office using the new “Blue” Clearance Packets for 2020-2021. Those can be obtained by stopping by the DHS Bookstore. Also, if you plan on participating with your team for any in-person summer workouts/practices, you must pick up and sign a waiver from DHS Bookstore.

These forms are required for all sports as well as band, media arts and the color guard.

“We look forward to gradually phasing-in soon, of course with the health and well-being of our student-athletes and coaches being the No. 1 priority,” Ortega said.

Emails asking for updates and plans for resuming athletics to Willcox Unified School District Superintendent Kevin Davis and Benson Athletic Director Tad Jacobson were not answered by press time.

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