Southern Arizona districts push back start date of high school sports

High School sports, football delayed

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - In a press conference on Thursday, Governor Doug Ducey said it’s up to public and private school districts to decide when to bring high school sports.

Health Director for the state, Dr. Cara Christ, said the plans should be guided by county health officials, taking into consideration local COVID-19 transmission rates and how much contact is involved with each sport. 

Many schools in Southern Arizona are now delaying the start of the fall sports season.

“[It] really broke my heart not to see students out here, running around,” said Phil Gruensfelder, the Director of Athletics at Salpointe Catholic High School.

Monday, July 27th, should have been the first day of football practice for the Lancers.

“It’s a really sad time,” Gruensfelder.

This week, Salpointe received a letter from Pima County Administrator, Chuck Huckelberry.

Huckelberry, in collaboration with medical experts, advised districts not to resume in-person classes at least until September 8th. He based his recommendation on several factors, including high COVD-19 infection rates.

“It’s difficult to say, ‘Well, we’re not going to allow students to be on campus, but we are going to allow sports to be on campus’,” Gruensfelder said.

So, Salpointe is [tentatively] moving the first day of the sports season to September 8th.

“Especially in Southern Arizona, we are hearing a lot about the delay of the start,” said Seth Polansky, a Sports Information Coordinator for the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA). “In the valley, some districts are a bit further ahead; some are practicing, some are about to. So, district-by-district it’s different and proximity does play a role.”

“If we don’t have anybody to compete against, then it’s a moot point,” said Gruensfelder. “So, we want to be a team player, we want to support the other districts.”

Salpointe will follow guidance from local health officials, even if that means pushing back the start date even further. However, Gruensfelder says the high school will not be moving fall sports into the spring season.

“It’s a facility issue,” he said. “If we take football and we put it during the springtime, we still have lacrosse, rugby, I have track and field. I already have my lacrosse programs going 8 to 10 at night. One of the things people haven’t really talked about are officials. There are quite a few officials that officiate football, but also do softball and baseball. So, if we were to move football to the spring, how would that affect those sports? And, the spring semester has already been robbed of a season when we shut down on March 16th.”

Whenever the fall sports season kicks off, Gruensfelder says health and safety will not sit on the sidelines.

“[Whether that means] we have to regulate who comes [into the stadium], or if we have to space people out, or maybe if we don’t even have spectators here,” he said.

Which, ultimately, will impact the school’s bottom line.

“Obviously, football is a big budget because we put 3,000 to 4,000 people in the stands on a Friday night. But these are different times,” said Gruensfelder. “At the end of the day, we are student-oriented. We take information from other districts and our leadership looks into what doctors and medical professionals are saying, and we make decisions based on that.”

“There are many surveys that have come out showing that those who participate in athletics and activities have higher grades, a better sense of self-worth, they socialize better,” said Polansky. “So, it’s really important for them to have this. That’s we are trying really, really hard not only to make sure we have all of our sports play this year, but that they play in their season.”

Tucson Unified School District released the following statement:

“The Pima County Health Department has recommended that fall sports be postponed indefinitely until the physical opening of campuses for in person learning opportunities is permitted. Future recommendations and decisions regarding the safety of opening our schools, continuing school and district events, sports, fine arts, and student activities will be guided by the recommendations of the Pima County Health Department.”

Flowing Wells High School Athletic Director, Mark Brunenkant, also shared his district’s plans:

“Flowing Wells High School will continue to monitor the metrics given by the Pima County Health Department to assist with the safe return of high school athletics. Flowing Wells High School does not support moving Fall Sports into the Spring Season”.

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