BISBEE — “We have to do what we can to keep these kids in school, and sports does that.”

Mike Frosco, Bisbee Unified School District athletic director, was talking to the board members during the Tuesday meeting about the return to sports. By following the Arizona Interscholastic Association health recommendations, he asked for approval to move forward with the various sports seasons to help students succeed in their academics while keeping them safe.

“We need to keep an eye on these kids,” Frosco said. “Last year was the best year we ever had for players being eligible to play. If we can get them in sports, we can keep them.”

District superintendent Tom Woody noted parents and athletes wanted to start practices and prepare for the seasons.

Board members Ann Littrell, Carol Loy, Erin Rhodes and Brian Ott agreed to allow sports practices to begin and agreed with participation in games as long as the county’s COVID–19 cases remained on a downward trend.

Football does not start until October, but soccer and volleyball will start at the end of September.

It will be a different kind of season — one with only 50 fans, maybe no band and a near length of the field sideline social distancing line for team members and coaches.

For football, there will be no high fives or fist bumps, no group hugs, limited contact with each other, constant hand washing and disinfecting mouth guards. Extra time between plays will be taken to ensure the ball is disinfected. No sharing of water bottles. Masks are to be worn on the sidelines at all times and social distancing must be followed.

Similar safeguards are in place for volleyball and soccer.

Though the schedules for the three sports do include away games in more affected areas of the state, Woody said the teams would not play those schools unless the number of cases dropped substantially.

“We don’t want to travel to Pima County or Phoenix or Globe,” he said. “We’ll reserve the right not to play the games.”

Frosco and coaches may have to pare down the team for away football games and hold the roster to just 28 players who will have to dress at school before they leave or on the buses since locker rooms will be closed. They will not be able to change into street clothes after the games.

“Not having locker rooms will be a stinky challenge on the way home,” BHS principal Darin Giltner quipped.

Teams will travel on two buses in order to meet social distancing recommendations and all players and coaches will have to wear masks to and from the games.

With most Bisbee High School games played within the county or in low COVID–19 case-rate neighboring counties, Frosco and Giltner believe the school will be able to protect the athletes.

Though the AIA recommendations were substantial, Littrell was hesitant. She wanted to have testing available for the athletes.

As in past meetings, Woody said testing was cost prohibitive. There was no way the district could pay for the testing results and getting those results back may take time.

Woody suggested the AIA recommendations and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines would provide the necessary framework for prevention of spreading the virus.

In order to ensure healthy students’ participation, Giltner and Frosco want athletes to attend school in person so their daily health screenings could be monitored for symptoms.

If there are changes in the county’s case load up or down, the board may meet again to decide on different criteria.