AIA flips Friday’s decision, winter sports back on in Arizona

Amid heavy backlash received by the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) after voting 5-4 to cancel winter sports on Friday, the AIA’s executive board met Tuesday to reconsider their initial ruling. 

High school basketball, wrestling and soccer matches will be allowed in Arizona beginning Jan. 18 after Jim Love, who represents the Flowing Wells Unified Arizona School Boards Association, changed his mind from his “no” vote on Friday. 

The main topic brought up by the members voting “yes” was athletes playing for club sports. 

“We can cancel sports on our campuses, but they will still play,” Flagstaff High School athletics director Jeannine Brandel said.

She added that athletes are safer with the AIA than in club sports. 

The vote contradicts recommendations from the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC) due to the rising positive rate of COVID-19 cases in Arizona. AIA members Tim Carter, Zack Munoz, William Duarte and Ricky Greer remained firm in their “no” votes Tuesday. Greer represents the 2A Conference and numerous reservation and rural schools. 

The decision to resume winter sports comes just a day after Arizona, once again, topped the United States in the rate of new COVID-19 cases after the state reported almost 9,000 new cases.

Key modifications were also passed for winter sports to begin. All athletes will be required to wear a mask, whether they are participating in games or on the bench. There will be no fans in attendance for events, but the board unanimously voted to let local schools and districts allow two parents per athlete depending on local health guidelines. 

In the fall, athletes were not required to wear masks or face coverings while competing. In Flagstaff, schools allowed limited attendance for games. 

Media attendance will be dependent on each school. 

The AIA already changed the metrics used to make a decision on winter sports and is not using the data they required prior to the fall season. SMAC expressed desire for this during Tuesday’s meeting, but the AIA chose to move forward regardless. 

Flagstaff High School and Coconino High School are currently scheduled to begin their winter seasons on Jan. 19 with boys’ and girls’ basketball. Northland Preparatory Academy is also scheduled to begin their winter sports on the same day.