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AIA delays start of fall sports following Gov. Doug Ducey's executive order
HIGH SCHOOL ATHLETICS

AIA delays start of fall sports following Gov. Doug Ducey's executive order

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Return to Football Practice

Coconino Panthers head coach Mike Lapsley, middle, leads a small group of football players in individual conditioning during a practice in June. Phase 1 of the district's Return to Play plan mandates that coaches remain masked at all times, athletes do not engage in physical contact and all temperatures are checked before practice begins.

In a statement released Monday night following Gov. Doug Ducey's executive order to delay the start of in-person classes to Aug. 17, the Arizona Interscholastic Association announced it is delaying the start of the fall high school sports schedule to the same date.

"In response to Governor Doug Ducey’s executive order for the state of Arizona, the AIA will delay the resumption of all school-related athletics and activities until Aug. 17," the release read. "This will push back the starting dates of practice for all fall sports and activities, and delay the start of competition seasons."

Flagstaff Unified School District is currently in Phase 1 of its return to practice and athletics plan, which limits athletes to outdoor workouts in small groups to avoid spreading of the coronavirus. FUSD did not return a request for comment on the status of athletics practice and whether or not practices will be paused like some schools have done around the state.

The AIA was set to send out surveys to schools starting shortly, but won't now that the fall sports calendar is up in the air. Instead, the surveys will be sent once the AIA has a better idea of potential start dates for fall sports.

Exact dates for the start of athletic competition, or how any potential changes may alter the winter and spring sports schedules, won't be finalized until the AIA is able to gather more information, according to the release.

"We couldn’t be more disappointed about the information that just came out regarding our schools. However, we understand that the most pressing concern is to ensure our student-athletes can return to school in the safest way possible,” AIA Executive Director David Hines said in a statement. “We will do everything in our power to make sure that when we get back up and going again, the transition will be as seamless as possible and to create memorable interscholastic experiences. And we’ll be able to accomplish that as long as everyone does their part to stay safe and prevent the spread of the virus.”

The AIA executive board was not made available for comment aside from the provided statements in the release.

High school athletics -- as well as youth, college and professional -- have been in limbo since the start of the closures caused by the pandemic. Already teams have missed out on summer camps and valuable practice time as uncertainty about upcoming seasons remain.

Flagstaff High School is currently scheduled to start its football season on Aug. 21 against Peoria in Flagstaff while Coconino opens against Cactus the following week.

Ducey's order also stated that gyms and other indoor athletics facilities will be closed until July 27. It is unclear how Ducey's order affects NAU athletics, which has had student-athletes participating in voluntary workouts -- albeit an undisclosed amount of athletes as the university has not released its guidelines and precautions for athletes despite requests.

Youth sports

Around the same time as Ducey announced new restrictions to the state, about 60 parents and children protested at Flagstaff City Hall -- asking for the city to reconsider its pause on youth sports.

In an eight-page letter, Flagstaff Youth Hockey Association President Kevin Tye asked the city council to reopen indoor and outdoor recreational facilities owned by the city.

Most notably in Tye's letter, he asked that the Jay Lively Activity Center be opened so that the youth hockey association can start its season -- he noted tryouts were set to start July 9. Tye wrote that if Jay Lively is not opened, hockey families would have to travel to Phoenix to compete in leagues, which would cost those families more than playing in Flagstaff. 

Little League in town was canceled in May, while other youth sports are on hold due to the pandemic.

Some other cities near Flagstaff, such as the Prescott area, are allowing youth sports in a smaller capacity -- no Little League but club softball has been played.

As of now, facilities owned by the city of Flagstaff aren't open and with Ducey's newest order, the indoor facilities will stay closed until July 27. There is no official reopen date listed on the recreation services website.

Lance Hartzler can be reached at 556-2251 or at lhartzler@azdailysun.com. Follow him on Twitter @lance_hartz.

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