As football programs across the East Valley adjust to limitations surrounding summer workouts, Red Mountain head football coach Mike Peterson elected to suspend his program’s camp for two weeks.
Peterson announced the suspension last Sunday in an email to players and parents, citing safety concerns for all involved with the program. His decision comes in the midst of a surge in positive coronavirus cases in the state, making Arizona a hotspot for the potentially deadly virus.
“We just decided it wasn’t worth it,” Peterson said. “When we finally get together with everyone full force, I don’t want it to be at someone’s funeral.”
Peterson said there have been no known cases of the virus within his program. Regardless, there are different circumstances surrounding those both directly and indirectly involved at Red Mountain that could be susceptible to severe illness.
Defensive coordinator Kyle Enders has severe asthma, according to Peterson, as well as a newborn at home. Jorge Pinero, who has served as the defensive coordinator for the junior varsity team at Red Mountain, is expecting a newborn any day. Assistant freshman coach Joe Eulate and assistant junior varsity coach Mike Runge both care for ailing parents, according to Peterson’s email. Additionally, Peterson’s daughter is also severely asthmatic.
Those with compromised immune symptoms and with underlying health conditions, including asthma, are among those most susceptible for severe illness caused by the virus.
“I could only imagine the list of things kids have going on at home,” Peterson said. “We are just trying to keep everyone safe. Colleges aren’t practicing yet. The pros aren’t practicing yet but us high school guys feel like we need to rush into things.
“I just don’t want someone to get sick when they didn’t have to because we wanted to practice football.”
Despite the two-week hiatus, Red Mountain will only miss about a week’s worth of workouts, according to Peterson.
The team generally takes a break following the July 4th holiday every summer. This year, the Mountain Lions broke a week early and hope to resume workouts on July 6. However, Peterson said whether they resume following the holiday depends entirely on the state’s status with the pandemic.
“We are going to try and get back together after a couple of calm weeks off,” Peterson said. “We normally have a break around that time anyway, so we are really only missing four days of workouts.”
So far, Red Mountain is the only known Mesa district program to have suspended workouts due to the pandemic. Schools began summer workouts on June 8 in limited fashion, as the district called for social distancing, groups of 10 or less and barred the use of shared equipment, such as footballs.
While other surrounding districts released similar plans, many of which also gave schools a timeline for when they are able to move into different phases and ease restrictions. Mesa, meanwhile, instructed teams to only move into a second phase once state officials deemed it safe to do so. Thus far, Arizona remains in the first phase of the government’s gated reopening plan.
Chandler Unified School District restricted its programs from moving on to the second phase of its reopening plan. Initially, teams were scheduled to move into phase two on Thursday, June 18, but officials informed schools to remain in the initial stage.
Gilbert Public Schools, which opened summer camps on June 1, was the first to move into phase two of its own return-to-play plan on June 15. Gilbert teams were the first to be able to use footballs and conduct workouts in large groups since schools were closed in mid-March due to the virus.
Schools being at different stages of summer workouts has many coaches across the state concerned, including Peterson. While East and West Valley schools have begun workouts, those in metro Phoenix have yet to take the field. Schools in southern Arizona are also barred from beginning workouts.
“It’s tough for us to see some teams doing one-on-ones and using footballs while others aren’t allowed to do anything,” Peterson said. “The AIA is a state organization. At least tell us what to do so we are all on the same playing field.”
David Hines, the executive director of the AIA said schools are in control of their own summer programs. The AIA officially becomes in charge on the first day of official practices on July 27.
Hines praised Peterson and Red Mountain for doing what it believes is best for the players.
“The biggest issue we deal with is we don’t know what we don’t know,” Hines said. “We are trying to bring back kids closely and keep them in small groups but when they go home, we don’t know what they’re doing.
“Each district and school, especially during the summer, has local control and will do what they believe is in the best interest of their kids.”