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Flagstaff, other Arizona high school football coaches make push for move to spring
HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL

Flagstaff, other Arizona high school football coaches make push for move to spring

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Flagstaff High School head coach Todd Hanley and 34 other high school football coaches from across Arizona as of Saturday have put their names on a letter addressed to the Arizona Interscholastic Association asking for it to consider moving the sport to the spring.

Dated Thursday, July 16, the letter lists three others from northern Arizona along with Hanley. Mohave head coach Rudy Olvera, Monument Valley head coach Brian Begay -- whose school district recently announced the cancellation of the fall season -- and Tuba City head coach Vincent Lee were also on the letter.

Although over half of the coaches named on the letter are from southern Arizona and the area around Tucson, Hanley said he believes if he can help kids have a shot at playing, he is all for it.

"It just seemed like why not support it? It's not like we are saying this is what we want to do no matter what," Hanley said during a Friday phone interview. "We are just saying we support this option -- if it is an option. It seemed to me like the right thing to do to support those coaches that feel like they may not get a chance, that way more schools get to participate and more kids get to have their senior year.

" ... Why not support it if it is going to benefit kids? Because it isn't going to hurt me," Hanley added. "If it means that 400 or 500 kids in Tucson don't get to play and all we got to do is move our season, then I am good with that."

For Begay, whose school is going with online-learning until further notice, it is all about the chance to have a season -- even if it isn't even able to work come spring.

"Who knows, we may lose all three sports seasons," Begay said. "As long as we're trying to make sure that we can get something in, that is what matters. That is basically why I signed that letter. I agree with (Oro Valley coach Dustin Peace). I don't know the guy personally, but he sent that letter out over Twitter and I just felt like his opinion was good enough for me to put my name on it."

The letter details why the coaches believe the AIA should consider a switch to spring, namely the health and safety of student-athletes and all involved with the sport. The change to spring, the letter states, could also give the AIA, school districts and teams more time to figure out plans for a football season to take place without taking away from the experience of the sport.

As the pandemic continues to surge through Arizona, the fall sports season has quickly become a massive question mark. The letter aimed to give a potential solution to let athletes try to get a football season if fall season plans fall through.

Other areas of concern and reasons listed are increased time for players to get college attention, a potential shortage of officials and concerns about multi-sport athletes having to choose between sports.

The football season and rest of the fall is already being delayed until Sept. 10 because of the new Aug. 17 start date for schools -- which could cause a change to the football schedule even more if the AIA proceeds with a fall season.

In total, 13 schools in Arizona -- 12 that are on Native American Reservations -- have so far announced plans to cancel the fall sports seasons altogether, including football: Odyssey Institute, Ganado, Monument Valley, Window Rock, Alchesay, Hopi, Sanders Valley, Greyhills Academy, Many Farms, Shonto Prep, Rock Point, St. Michaels.

Many school districts in the state have made decisions on their own, falling in line with what the AIA stated in the past few months about letting individual districts judge their own situations. The letter addressed that, stating it could be better not to force districts to make a choice now on whether a sport for sure doesn't happen. Fears of students transferring out of districts that aren't playing to ones that are played into is as well, according to the letter.

In a video released by the AIA on Thursday -- the same day the letter was dated -- Executive Director David Hines answered questions from AIA media director Seth Polansky, and notably left the door a little open to the idea of moving football to a different season.

"We approached some of our conference leadership to give us feedback on different options," Hines said in the video. "For the most part, the membership is not interested in shifting seasons. They already lost spring. We don't want kids to lose two seasons. If we have to modify some things in the fall and winter and still have some season, we'll try everything we can do to it."

Local level

Bob Kuhn, Flagstaff Unified School District assistant superintendent for operations,  overseas athletics in the district and says it will wait for decisions from either the AIA or other districts in the Valley on how to go forward with athletics.

He noted the decisions being made by reservation schools, stating that because of how spread-out the schools there are, they are in a unique situation compared to Flagstaff schools and even the rest of the state.

The furthest the Flagstaff or Coconino high school football teams have to go for a 4A Grand Canyon Region came is Mohave, while many reservation schools average that mileage.

"I've done this for a number of years and it is different situation out there with the distance and the amount of traveling they do," Kuhn said. "They have to take all that into consideration. ... We travel a long way, too, but we are condensed in one area as well. That's the difference. We are going to wait and see in the next week and a half or two weeks and see what happens."

Kuhn echoed a similar sentiment that many in the high school sports world have said: the main goal is the health and safety of the students.

"I've been in this a long time and have coached for a long time; kids' safety is always number one," Kuhn said. "No matter what you do, you always have to pick the kids' safety. If you can make kids safe, then you are OK. But if you can't evaluate kids' safety then you can't. That includes practice, that includes travel and that includes games. You gotta evaluate all three."

Flagstaff and Coconino have each been, essentially, in phase one of the safety guidelines that were released in June.

Since then, nothing much has really changed according to Hanley. They are doing the bare minimum, but for the team, Hanley said, it's at least something.

The California Interscholastic Federation is expected to make a decision on fall sports Monday and there are reports that the CIF could start fall sports in January.

New Mexico recently pushed the football and soccer seasons to the spring while Utah has elected to try to make it work for the fall, leaving some options for the AIA to consider going forward.

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

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