Wait for it

White Mountain football teams such as Snowflake, shown taking the field last fall, may not have a game before October. But we will know more soon as school officials across the state will be busy over the coming weeks hammering out amended schedules. The Arizona Interscholastic Association has pushed back the first day of football practice to Sept. 7, although most other high school sports will begin earlier, as schools try to return to sports after the coronavirus pandemic forced a shutdown in March.

Athletic teams from area could return to preseason practice within two weeks while some others will have to wait another month, according to the latest directives from the Arizona Interscholastic Association, the governing body for high school sports in the state.

The AIA’s Executive Board, at a special meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 5, approved a fall 2020 interscholastic athletics calendar. After meetings with the Executive Board, associated committees and correspondence with member schools, the AIA decided to stagger starting dates by sport, rather than have all sports begin about the same time.

For AIA member high schools in the White Mountains, cross country will be the first to start with the first day of practice set for Aug. 24 and the first day of competition slated for Sept. 9.

A week later, 2A Fall Soccer begins (Aug. 31, Sept. 16), along with volleyball (Aug. 31, first matches on Sept. 21).

In football, divisions 1A-3A are currently discussing possibilities for length of their regular seasons and when to hold state championships. Generally, the first day of practice for football will not begin until Sept. 7, with opening games not slated until Sept. 30 or later.

Note that the resumption of all athletics and activities are subject to change based upon changes to national, state or local guidelines, or government directives regarding any return to normalcy amid the coronavirus pandemic, which forced shutdown of the state’s spring sports season in mid-March.

The Executive Board has voted for a phase-in, or staggered, beginning of fall sports, it was announced in an AIA press release on Wednesday. The start dates of each sport were identified based on information received from member schools regarding student and personnel safety, and what is most easily administered by athletic directors and coaches.

Executive Board members, who are representatives of member schools, were concerned that the ability to create a uniform interscholastic environment would be challenging as each school district is autonomous in their decisions as to when to return to in-person instruction. Ultimately, the proposed schedule was approved. The mental health and well-being of the students were key in this approved proposal.

“We owe it to our members to provide a direction,” stated Executive Board President and Safford Athletic Director Toni Corona. “It may be challenging to get everything going for all the schools at one time but with good communication, we can provide the best possible experience for our students in this unprecedented time. This Board and the AIA staff will continue to provide information and guidelines as we proceed.”

All fall sports will continue to operate under out-of-season/summer rules as per AIA Bylaws and Policies until the first permissible day of practice for each sport.

Fall sports now have an abridged regular season to accommodate for the amount of time available before winter sports begin. All fall sports will have an opportunity for a championship tournament. The minimum number of contests to qualify for the postseason, regular season maximums, region tournaments and all postseason qualifying procedures will be determined by region and conference committees as soon as possible. Due to the late start of the fall season, the Executive Board approved the winter season to begin one week later than normal.

This new schedule does allow for schools and districts who are not able to start on the earliest possible date to join competition when feasible and still be eligible for the postseason, provided those school teams meet conference minimums.

“We would like to thank our member schools and our school communities for their patience as we worked through the challenges to develop this plan,” said AIA Executive Director David Hines.

“The health and safety of our student participants, coaches, officials and essential personnel, including volunteers, is the primary concern for the return of interscholastic athletics and activities. We are very grateful to those who share our commitment of a return to these highly beneficial educational activities and athletics.”

Once conference committees have completed the amended scheduling process, all schedules will be published on AIAonline.org, AZPreps365.com, and wmicentral.com.

Wednesday’s announcement went on to address student-athletes at all the state’s schools, even those that have already canceled the fall sports season.

For the schools that have already canceled their fall seasons, Hines and the Executive Board will continue to work with those schools to offer opportunities for students to participate and provide as complete an experience as possible in these unusual circumstances.

Modifications for fall sports will be sent to all member school athletic directors and administrators so they can be prepared to enact the plans once they are able to practice with their student-athletes.

Spiritline tryouts may begin as early as Aug. 17 based on a school’s particular needs. However, stunting may not begin until Sept. 7.

As previously shared with member schools, Esports registration is currently ongoing with a preseason start date of Sept. 15.

AIA timetable for return

to fall sports

Cross Country: First Practice Aug. 24; First Competition Sept. 9; Championships Nov. 12-13

Fall Soccer: First Practice Aug. 31; First Competition Sept. 16; Championships Nov. 4-7

Volleyball: First Practice Aug. 31; First Competition Sept. 21; Championships Nov. 12-21

Football: First Practice Sept. 7; First Competition Sept. 30-Oct. 3; Championships Dec. 11/12 (4A-6A & Open)

NOTE — The 1A-3A conferences are currently discussing possibilities for length of their regular seasons and when to hold state championships in football.

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