AIA reinstates winter sports

In this News-Herald file photo, Lake Havasu High senior defender Gavin Lintz (left) makes a pass during a practice at the Arizona State University at Lake Havasu campus on Nov. 17. All winter sports, including soccer, will be played after the Arizona Interscholastic Association voted to reinstate the season on Tuesday.

After canceling winter sports on Jan. 8, the Arizona Interscholastic Association Executive Board reversed its decision in a special meeting on Tuesday, voting 5-4 in favor of moving forward with the season.

Originally, the AIA board voted 5-4 to cancel winter sports in its Jan. 8 meeting, a decision that drew statewide backlash from coaches, student-athletes, and parents. The board decided to reconvene after member schools suggested to reconsider their position.

Board member Jim Love was the swinging vote, changing his “no” vote from Jan. 8. Other board members who voted to reinstate the season were Marcus Williams, Dr. Camille Casteel, Jeannine Brandel and Jim Dean. Board members Dr. Zack Munoz, Tim Carter, William Duarte and Ricky Greer voted no.

“I think our kids need sports and athletics in their lives,” Lake Havasu High Athletic Director Dustin Zampogna said. “I’m just happy that the AIA decided to think about the kids and ultimately reverse their decision and allow us to have athletics for the winter season.”

Winter sports are scheduled to begin competition on Jan. 18 with updated modifications including a mask mandate for all athletes, coaches, and officials for the entirety of a contest. Cloth masks or a gaiter will be required to be worn during each basketball, soccer and wrestling competitions.

“It’s a fair compromise to have our winter sports,” Zampogna said. “Everybody has their own opinion in terms of the mask mandate and whether they’re for or against it, but if that means we get to have the winter season, I’m more than happy to make sure that modification is enforced to have a winter season.”

Each student-athlete will be allowed to have two parents or legal guardians attend their home games, depending on local school and county guidelines. Zampogna said LHHS athletics will allow two parents or guardians per athlete in the stands.

Another guideline that must be followed is schools will need to complete a covid-19 athlete/coach monitoring form on the day of games and a copy will need to be provided to the opposing school prior to the start of the contest.

According to a press release from the AIA, any school that violates any of the new mandatory modifications will lose access to AIA officiating. AIA Executive Director David Hines was strict about schools following these modifications during Tuesday’s meeting.

“(Masks) will be mandatory for everyone in the gym,” Zampogna said. “Players, parents, coaches, athletes, everyone in the gym, in the soccer field and the stadium, it’ll be a mandate for everyone.”

In a joint statement from the board, the members said, “This has been a very challenging situation.”

“While we all desire to have our high school students in school and participate in interscholastic sports and activities, we feel it is imperative to consider the recommendations of medical professionals based on their expertise. Reinstating the winter season poses a risk to the healthcare system, which could impact students who may be injured. We believe that these additional modifications will serve to mitigate this risk as much as possible. Our member schools and families must understand how critical it is to adhere completely to all modifications.”

“This has been a very difficult decision for the Executive Board," Hines said in a statement. "They have been weighing the concerns of the medical community, including the AIA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, and the requests by our member schools. We all want winter sports to happen, but it must be done safely.”

The AIA said in it's release that the situation will be closely monitored and re-evaluated in the upcoming days and weeks. The AIA added once covid-19 hospitalizations decrease to “more acceptable levels,” the board may reconsider additional sport-specific modifications and could revisit the idea of allowing fans.

The Arizona Department of Health Services reported 195 new cases in Mohave County on Tuesday, along with 14 new deaths. As of Tuesday, the total number of cases in the county are 15,790 with a reported total of 404 deaths and a 14.9 positivity rate.

In the state, 8,559 new positive cases and 335 new deaths were reported on Tuesday. As of Tuesday, Arizona has 636,100 total cases and 10,482 deaths and a 13.4 positivity rate.

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