AIA pushes back start of winter sports to Jan. 18 The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

AIA pushes back start of winter sports to Jan. 18

January 5th, 2021 Mesa Tribune Staff
AIA pushes back start of winter sports to Jan. 18

By Zach Alvira
Tribune Sports Editor

The Arizona Interscholastic Association is pushing back the winter sports season for a second time, moving from a Jan. 5 to Jan. 18 start.

The decision comes amid a continuing surge in COVID-19 that has forced many school districts in the state to begin the second semester this week with virtual learning for all students.

“Our focus continues to be on keeping students in school and on the playing field safely,” Associate Executive Director Joe Paddock said in the release. “We believe this decision will help us preserve the winter sports season.”

The AIA Executive Board said the delay would also allow teams to practice for two weeks after students return from winter break.

The same guidelines and recommendations from the AIA’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee that governed fall sports will remain in place once the winter season begins.

With those recommendations, the winter sports season will not stop once it begins unless state health or government officials order all extracurricular activities to suspend operations.

The recommendations allow teams to begin competition on Jan. 18 regardless of what key COVID-19 metrics used to determine the start of fall sports show. The metrics will only be used to determine whether fans are able to attend competitions. At this time, the metrics call for empty stands.

The AIA said conferences will be given the opportunity to decide the total number of weeks of competitions for winter teams. That decision will be made in the next couple of weeks, according to the AIA. The winter sports season will conclude on March 5, with the spring season beginning March 1.

Conferences will have the ability to modify the length of the spring season.

“These measures will allow us to start the season and I hope, that as we see hospitalizations go down, some of the restrictions regarding spectators, be lifted,” Executive Director David Hines said.

The AIA’s decision to once again delay the start of the winter sports season didn’t come as much of a surprise to several East Valley coaches.

“In a time with very little consistency, moving competition back two weeks is consistent with schools going remote the first two weeks after Christmas break,” Mesa wrestling coach David DiDomenico said. “The delay allows for a better opportunity to complete the remainder of the winter schedule without teams cancelling.”

DiDomenico, a longtime coach of the Mesa wrestling program, said the extra time also allowed for his athletes to focus on classes rather than juggle practice and schoolwork.

So far, it’s paid off.

“I was able to motivate my wrestlers to pass their classes to be eligible,” DiDomenico said. “We got many wrestlers completing their schoolwork, succeeding in their finals and passing for the semester. It’s the greatest silver lining to the delay.”

Chandler girls basketball coach Glenda Skalitzky said she entered the new school year knowing she, her players and other coaches across the state would have to be flexible. In many ways, she prepared for a further delay.

“As coaches we know we have to be flexible, especially this year,” Skalitzky said. “I’m just thankful they’re trying to get us a season.”

Skalitzky said her team was disappointed to hear the news. Especially given Chandler Unified School District shut down all school athletic teams for the week of Christmas. Skalitzky said they hoped to return to practice Monday, Dec. 28 but that wasn’t guaranteed.

The suspension of team activities forced Chandler’s girls basketball program to be creative. They met through Zoom and Skalitzky sent workouts for the girls to do at home.

But it isn’t the same.

“They were super disappointed,” Skalitzky said. “They were working hard and were excited to play Hamilton Jan. 8. We are just taking things day-by-day.”

First-year Saguaro head boys basketball coach Lucas Ramirez said he and his program support the AIA’s decision to further delay the season. He knows it is with the best interest of everyone in mind.

Unlike Chandler, Saguaro was able to continue practicing.

“We are supportive of the AIA’s decision as we believe they have had our student-athletes best interest in mind from the beginning,” Ramirez said. “We will continue to practice as safe as possible as a program and look forward to any and all opportunities of a season.”

Mountain Pointe basketball coach Kaimarr Price said he anticipated some sort of delay but thought at first it would only be an additional week. Still, he accepts the two-week delay as long as it means the season will be able to get started at some point this winter.

“We just need to focus on what we can control,” Price said. “Two more weeks of practice definitely won’t hurt us. It’s a time to bond and get better as a team. Whatever allows us to start and complete a season I’m on board with.”

Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista’s basketball programs will continue to practice during winter break, taking Christmas Eve, Christmas and New Year’s Day off. Especially for the Thunder, that allows for extra time to prepare for a team that has new co-head coaches this season in Bryant St. Cyr and Jordan Ballard.

Like Price, St. Cyr thought a delay would eventually come, especially with rising metrics.

“I wasn’t shocked, I’ve been keeping a close eye on the metrics,” St. Cyr said. “Just watching the numbers and seeing what they had us do to adjust, we just have to make sure we get our kids ready. But it’s definitely tough.

“I know the kids were ready to get going on the 5th.”

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