With more than one out of 10 people on the Fort Apache Reservation testing positive for coronavirus, the Whiteriver Unified School District voted 4-0 last Wednesday to cancel Alchesay High School’s 2020 fall sports season.

The decision will sideline the Falcons’ three-time defending 2A North champion football team, as well as the school’s boys’ and girls’ cross-country teams and girls volleyball team from competition in the fall.

The number of COVID-19 cases on the reservation continues to rise, prompting the board to take action.

“The safety of our students is our first priority,” WUSD board member Michael Tate told AZ Preps 365, the website for the state’s high school athletics and activity sanctioning body, the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

Following an executive order issued in June by Arizona Governor Doug Ducey which delayed the start of in-person schooling, the AIA delayed any on-campus return to sports for its membership until at least August 17.

Alchesay’s football team is coming off the best four-year stretch in the program’s history that dates back to the late 1960s. The Falcons have had winning seasons all of the past four years, including an 8-3 season last year. Incoming senior Davin Parker was expected to lead this year’s Falcons after a 2019 season in which he rushed for 2,030 yards and 27 touchdowns.

“I’m holding back tears as we talk,” AZ Preps 365 quoted head football coach Brandon Newcomb as saying about the decision. “I’m definitely heartbroken as I think about the kids. It’s going to be hard. I don’t know how it’s going to be when everybody gets back on campus. I’m going to be a counselor in that respect while listening to the disappointment of the kids.”

WUSD became the second Arizona school district to cancel its fall high school sports seasons, with the other being Ganado Unified School District on the Navajo Nation, which made the decision in late June. Each district’s cancellation affects only one high school under its control — Alchesay HS and Ganado High School.

Other schools could follow suit with cancellations and significant schedule changes are likely as the number of coronavirus cases in the state continues to mount.

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