Editor's Note: On Sept. 18 a letter was sent from Flagstaff Unified School District to parents stating that all athletic activities for all public schools will be halted until further notice.
Flagstaff is not known for its sports culture. The city is not a big breeding ground for sports talent like California, Texas or even some cities down in the Phoenix area. However, there is one part of the sports spectrum that brings Flagstaff’s community together — high school sports.
Flagstaff’s high school sports community is a very proud and passionate group up north. With the closest professional sports team located in Prescott, the community relies on its high school sports to enjoy live competition. The Northland Preparatory Academy girls’ soccer team has won three straight state championships, and the Coconino and Flagstaff High School rivalry on the football field is always must-see action.
Unfortunately, like many other sports around the country, COVID-19 put a question mark on if any high school, college or professional sports would be able to have seasons this year. However, after much deliberation, research and consultation from state health officials, the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) announced that sports will be able to return for all Arizona AIA-abiding high schools.
The AIA put out a statement Sept. 2 discussing the decision and the thought that went into it.
“The Executive Board, comprised of representatives from the member schools, reviewed the latest recommendations from [the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC)] before reaching their decision,” the statement read. “With this data and the state’s recorded number of COVID-19 cases declining over the past two weeks, the Board felt competitive sports and activities at the member schools can be successful within recommended guidelines.”
AIA executive director David Hines gave his thoughts on the situation, as well as gave thanks to the people who helped make this possible in a press release earlier in the week.
“I would like to say on behalf of the staff and the [SMAC], especially for the sport of football, we would not have been able to make this decision until this time right now based on the metrics,” Hines said. “So, the metrics have gotten to a place that we can start football practice ... [and] we can get kids in a helmet and shoulder pads and begin doing work.”
The decision was not only a win for the schools that are members of the AIA, but especially for Flagstaff, as they will once again be able to see their high schools hit the field, court and pitch once again in 2020.
The news also means that the Flagstaff Eagles football team will have a chance to build on their improved performance in the 2019 season. The Eagles bounced back last year by going 6-4 after finishing the 2018 season with a 3-7 record. Head coach Todd Hanley shared how excited he is to get his players back onto the field and getting them ready for the upcoming season.
“We have been extremely fortunate that our board and our superintendents have been very supportive during the process,” Hanley said. “We have been doing summer workouts since June 3 ... It was even more special when we handed out helmets with our kids names on them, which kind of built our anticipation of practice, everyone was bursting at the seams to have that moment to kind of celebrate potentially getting back to business.”
When the AIA released its plan for a return to sports, it mentioned schools playing football would have the opportunity to begin practice on Labor Day, Sept. 7. Hanley saw this and decided on a perfect way to begin the first full practice for the team.
As soon as the clock struck midnight, the team ran out of the tunnel and onto the field to officially start their 2020 campaign. Hanley discussed the reasoning behind this move and what it meant to not only himself, but his players as well.
“It was my idea, I actually did that before when I was coaching at Seton Catholic,” Hanley said. “We decided to do that because of our mentality of first on, last off. It was just one of those opportunities to demonstrate to kids that slogans are just words without meaning, but we wanted to put that slogan into action and give them something tangible, when we mean first on, we mean first on for the state. It was neat for our kids and our community.”
With the uncertainty out of the way, Hanley can now get his team focused and ready to achieve more success in the 2020 season.
“We came off a year that everybody considered really good, but as a team and staff, we thought we underachieved,” Hanley said. “We came back with this [attitude] of wanting to go on a revenge tour, or whatever you want to call it, and our kids took it really seriously. The work that they have been putting in is unprecedented, this is my 24th year coaching and this is one of the hardest-working teams I have been around. They have dramatically improved. We have guys who were role players for us last year and their bodies have completely transformed. I think we will be a really strong football team.”
Sports fans in Flagstaff will not have to wait much longer for these high school teams to get back to action in 2020. It is an opportunity to bring a fun and exciting time to a community that is ready to see some live sports.