Winter sports canceled due to statewide hospital capacity concerns

Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Herald: Alec Judd makes his way down the court during a basketball game last season. The AIA has canceled all winter sports this season due to COVID-19 concerns.

By Seth Polansky/AIA

PHOENIX – Due to the continued presence of Covid-19 and having the nation’s highest rate of coronavirus hospitalizations, the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC) made a recommendation on Jan. 7 to the AIA’s Executive Board to cancel the high school winter sports season.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Christian Mpoyo knifes in between Cowboys Ayden Fuentes (10) and J.J. Lunt (14) en route to the basket during a game last year.

SMAC recommended that hospital capacity be considered an important factor when considering the winter season. This week, 93% of all Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds and 92% of all inpatient beds are in use, leaving concern that injured students may be unable to receive needed care due to a lack of beds or available medical professionals.

Based on the SMAC recommendations made on Jan. 7, the Executive Board, after extensive consideration and debate, voted 5-4 in favor of canceling the winter sports season today during a special session.

“Unfortunately, it is expected that the state will see a continued rise in Covid-19 hospitalizations for some time. As medical professionals, we cannot in good conscience recommend that students engage in a winter season under the current conditions,” said SMAC Committee Chair Dr. Wilson. 

“We do not see the situation improving very quickly. Unfortunately, it does not appear that there will be adequate time before the start of the spring season for a winter season to occur,” said Executive Board President Toni Corona.  

“While we understand the Board’s position, we are saddened by this decision, especially considering that Club sports are continuing. To the best of our knowledge, never in our 100-plus-year history has the AIA canceled an entire season. We want nothing more than for our students to be active in school and participating in interscholastic sports and activities. It is my sincerest hope that all Arizonans will follow the CDC and Arizona Health guidelines by wearing masks, washing hands frequently, and practicing social distance to decrease cases and hospitalizations. If for no other reason, I hope we can do it for the kids.” said AIA Executive Director David Hines.    

Spring sports, scheduled to begin March 1, will be dependent upon statewide metrics improving and further evaluation by SMAC and the Executive Board. The Board is comprised of representatives of the member schools and statewide educational organizations.

Raymundo Frasquillo File Photo/Gila Herald: Solomon Lucero works for an advantage against Globe in the Morenci Multi meet on Jan. 15, 2020. There will be no AIA wrestling this year due to concerns regarding COVID-19.


Why are college-level sports in Arizona continuing to play but not high school sports?

Daily testing occurs for all collegiate athletes. Based on this testing, approximately 50% of all play is being canceled. Unfortunately, there are no mechanisms or systems that would support daily Covid-19 testing of 30,000 high students who participate in winter sports.

Infection rates and death rates are incredibly low for people under 18. Why are we preventing kids from playing?

It is true that Covid-19 is not as severe for high school age individuals and rarely results in death or long-term impact. The bigger concern is that students may lose the ability to receive timely care in case of injury due to hospital capacity issues. Hospitals are repurposing floors as Covid-19 units to support the growing cases. In recent days, some hospitals have repurposed their pediatric floors to handle Covid-19 caseloads.

Why is there so much concern about hospital bed capacity? What does this have to do with high school sports?

Hospital bed capacity is not just an indicator of space, but also health care personnel availability. There is a concern that continuing winter sports as originally scheduled could impact community spread and potentially impact an injured student’s ability to receive care.

Club sports are continuing throughout the state. Why is this a problem for interscholastic sports?

Interscholastic sports are education-based and an extension of the classroom. Districts and school boards have a tough job and community duty to make decisions based on medical experts’ advice and county-specific Covid-19 data.

What does this mean for spring sports?

It is not possible to know what the specific landscape will look like in future months. If metrics and hospital capacity improve to the levels achieved in the fall, the association anticipates holding a spring sports season.

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