As football programs across the East Valley try to carefully navigate through summer workouts, some have fallen victim to COVID-19 infections among players.
Tempe Union High School District spokesperson Megan Sterling confirmed a player at Desert Vista had tested positive for the virus. According to Sterling, the player started to have symptoms the weekend of June 12. He was not present at any of the Thunder’s workouts leading up to his positive test result on June 18.
Desert Vista kept players in groups of 10, including a coach that was designated to remain with that group. Sterling said the player’s group were told to self-isolate out of precaution. Sterling said as of Friday, June 26, no other players or coaches showed signs of infection.
“Desert Vista has been following the guidelines released by the AIA and district,” Sterling said. “Once notified of the test, players and the coach who came in contacts with the player were immediately told to self-quarantine for 14 days. Players have to have a note from a doctor clearing them to return.”
In Scottsdale, a Chaparral football player also tested positive for the virus. According to a statement from the Scottsdale Unified School District, the camp was shut down for deep cleaning but has since resumed workouts.
Chaparral players also participated in small-group team workouts inside D1 Scottsdale, a new training facility. According to Kristen Baker, one of the owners of D1, the player was asymptomatic when inside the facility. About three days later, she said the player’s mother informed her of the positive test.
“We suspended all team workouts and closed so a professional cleaning company could come in and sanitize the facility,” Baker said. “This is something we will do every week going forward to ensure the safety of all of our guests.”
East Valley school districts have started releasing initial plans to allow kids back onto campus for the fall semester. Most of which, however, have left athletics up to the Arizona Interscholastic Association.
The AIA announced it would send out surveys in July to principals to gauge how they plan to welcome athletics back on campus. From there, the association’s Crisis Management Committee will begin formulating a plan for a fall sports season.
“We are going to look at in the next two or three weeks what is going on in the state,” Hines said. “The problem is we just don’t know where we will be at. When school starts going back, and we again don’t know what that will look like, then we can start making some decisions on what we do for the start of fall.”
Surveys for football and fall soccer will have a deadline of July 10, as those sports begin official practice sooner than others. The first official AIA mandated practice for football is scheduled to take place on July 27. Responses for other fall sports are expected to be submitted by July 24.
Hines said the committee would weigh all of its options in regard to the fall season, including a potential delay or shortening it.
“I don’t believe cancelling games would be necessary but pushing everything back would be beneficial no matter what,” Mountain Pointe head Coach Eric Lauer said. “I don’t think any teams, with the limitations right now and not knowing when we can move into another phase, will be ready to go by August.”
Lauer said if the season was canceled, there should be an option for seniors to be in pads sometime in the winter with college coaches in attendance.
“Give us four weeks at the end of January and the first couple weeks of February to get our guys in pads and let them try to earn a scholarship through showcases at schools,” Lauer said. “No refs, just guys working out in pads in front of college coaches. Even one day could be the difference for a player earning a scholarship.”
Desert Vista coach Dan Hinds said safety is at the forefront of his goals for the summer. After that, it’s preparing as if the season will go on as planned.
“Football players and football coaches all want to have a season,” Hinds said, “but first and foremost, I’m all about keeping kids safe. I’ve kind of come to a place where we are planning to have a season until they tell us otherwise.”
Desert Ridge head football coach Jeremy Hathcock said he was in favor of pushing the season back, no matter what that looks like. He suggested playing only eight games in the regular season and allowing for every team to make some sort of postseason tournament.
“If we are going to push things back, get rid of a game or two,” Hathcock said. “I don’t think we can push the entire season back because then we get into basketball and wrestling then start forcing kids to decide which sport to compete in.”
Like Arizona, Texas and Florida have also seen an uptick in infections. Some prep teams in both states began workouts in early June, similar to Arizona, but have seen infections among players or family members that triggered quarantines.
As COVID-19 case numbers continue to rise, Chandler coach Rick Garretson said he would be open to any changes that would result in having a season in 2020.
“I don’t think taking away bye weeks or going to an eight-game schedule would be a big deal,” Garretson said. “We need something. So, I would be fine with herring on the side of caution in order to have a season.”