Future of football season, other contact sports, up in the air

PCHD sports memo

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Hope for a football season this fall is deflating due to a new memo by the Pima County Health Department.

PCHD recommended all contact sports stop until we reach “minimal” spread. But the problem is the health department and Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) have differing views on what they consider minimal. Leaving athletes in limbo.

Like freshman Kennedy Ellsworth.

“We had our masks on, our waters were six feet apart, we were 6 feet apart," said Ellsworth in regards to how they were practicing.

Things almost felt normal, and Mica Mountain was expecting to continue with their season, until Thursday.

“We all just sighed and coach started tearing up and said he loved us and that, if anything, we’ve worked our butts off for the last couple months and we deserved a season, and we felt that too. So it’s heartbreaking," said Ellsworth.

His coach is one of the many who received a memo from Dr. Teresa Cullen. It recommends that contact sports, including football, postpone until we get back into minimal spread territory.

PCHD Memo to Athletic Partners
PCHD Memo to Athletic Partners (Source: NA)

The problem here is what is defined as “minimal spread.”

The Pima County Health Department states it’s less than 10 cases per 100,000 people. The AIA states it’s less than 75 cases per 100,000. On Friday, Oct. 16, the latest data showed Pima County has 50 cases per 100,000 which has them meeting the AIA guidelines, but not the health departments. So you see where the students are getting frustrated?

“Phoenix gets to play, Salpointe gets to play, Pusch Ridge gets to play, other sports are going on but football is getting taken out of the equation, its not fair,” said Ellsworth.

His dad Kenneth wants the same thing.

“The parents I know want them to play, that’s for sure. I don’t really don’t understand why football can’t play. This is out in the open, its healthy, I mean he’s not nearly depressed when he plays," said Kenneth.

Pima County School Superintendent Dustin Williams sent KOLD a statement that said quote:

Schools, students, and families should follow the direction and guidance of the Pima County Health Department at this time. Full contact sports are not recommended by the PCHD. I understand these are difficult times but following the guidance of our health officials is paramount. We must consider the entire organization and well-being of everyone when in comes to athletic decisions.

And if the decision becomes final, students like Kennedy said they won’t take it as time off.

″I guess I just have to work even harder this off-season so I can ball out next year," said Ellsworth.

The Pima County Health Department released a statement Friday saying quote:

This week, as part of the ongoing conversations between PCHD, Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) leaders and local school officials to support their planning and ensure consistency with Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) guidance, Pima County and AIA officials met to discuss the difference between their guidelines and ADHS guidance. The result of those conversations was a finding that AIA’s guidelines were consistent with all aspects of the state’s original guidance except in regards to their definition of “minimal community spread”; the condition that would have to be met for the full resumption of contact sports.

The definition of “minimal community spread” established by the Arizona Department of Health Services in their benchmark guidance for schools, the White House Corona Virus Task Force and the Centers for Disease Control is 10 cases/ 100,000 residents. We believe superintendents and school boards need to understand this critical difference as they consider the resumption of instructional and athletic activity in the midst of a pandemic.

Contact sports like football, that require close interaction pose a risk for infection until community transmission is minimal. Non-contact athletic activity carries a much lower risk by comparison and many schools have already restarted this activity. Just this month student athletic teams in this county and throughout Arizona have experienced infections requiring the quarantine of large numbers of exposed children. This is the situation we are looking to avoid.

Under the Governor’s Executive Order, county health departments are obliged to provide consultation to public school districts and public charter schools as they make plans to return to instruction and activities. The decisions to return to instruction or to resume athletic activities are appropriately and ultimately made by school boards and superintendents for each district. We will continue to support districts as they make those decisions and continue to provide guidance as requested.

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