Eliminating high fives, coaching in groups of 10 people or less and administering regular temperature checks are among the recommendations the Arizona Interscholastic Association is endorsing for high school athletes as they begin practice for the fall sports season.

The AIA, the state’s governing body for high school sports, is following guidelines produced by the national Sports Medicine Advisory Committee for a state that is in phase one, which is the case with Arizona. The association also offered guidelines for when the state moves into phase two and three.

“Our priority through this is for the safety and well-being of all our state’s student-athletes and those that support them,” said David Hines, executive director of the AIA. “We are not guaranteed to have a fall season. We are preparing to be ready on time, but it will all depend on how this situation develops as the summer goes on. We just ask that schools, coaches, players and parents consider and utilize the guidelines until we get back to normal.”

The AIA’s guidelines on Thursday came shortly before Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced that youth activities, such as Little League and other sports leagues, summer schools and day camps, will be allowed to reopen under new social distancing and safety standards.

“Things would be getting back to normal when somebody could say ‘play ball’ or ‘batter up.’ I was hoping that play ball would be for the Diamondbacks but in the meantime it can be for Little League,” Ducey said at a Thursday afternoon news conference.

The timing is up to organizations, he said.

Detailed guidelines by the SMAC for phase one include:

• Small group activities are permitted for 10 people or less with a coach onsite, but public facilities (including gyms) remain closed.

• All athletes, coaches and other support staff must be free from symptoms for at least 14 days and no individual is in close contact with anyone who is sick within that 14-day period before group training may begin.

• All athletes, coaches, and support staff who are members of a high risk group or live at home with a member of a high risk group shall only attend training sessions virtually.

• Screening for symptoms occurs based on a daily COVID-19 symptom questionnaire of all participants including coaches and staff.

• If an athlete is showing any symptoms or discloses symptoms or illness, a parent should be called and the athlete needs to be seen and cleared by a healthcare provider.

• Temperature checks are strongly encouraged for all participants. Each athlete shall log their self-reported questionnaire and temperature. A COVID-19 point of contact for teams shall maintain symptom logs.

• Disinfecting and cleaning of all personal equipment and material shall occur before and after practice as well as any other time there is contact with another person.

The recommended guidelines created by the SMAC are based on Ducey’s outline for phased reopening in the state.The recommended guidelines by the AIA does not overrule local guidelines enforced by local public health authorities, Hines said.

Emergency legislation was also passed on Thursday by the Executive Board of the AIA in regard to a required pre-participation physical form for all athletes. A waiver was approved to allow student athletes who have already completed certain physical forms to participate in their respected sport activities. The decision was ultimately made to alleviate the stress of some families traveling and wondering how they could get their son or daughter into a medical professional for a physical during this time.

Meanwhile, the new guidelines for youth sports, designed to keep children, parents and coaches safe, mean not sharing water bottles, other drinks or food, towels or most equipment. Equipment such as basketballs and baseball bats players share during games have to be sanitized before and after a game.

Social distancing moves include recommendations for players to wait in the car before games or practices start and asking those attending the games to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to wear masks or other face coverings and keep proper distance away from one another. The CDC recommends a minimum of six feet. Ducey’s guidance did not address whether players will wear masks.

Players, coaches and parents need to be trained on the guidelines.

The governor said the bottom line is that youths are returning to sports fields.

“If you need a headline today, it would be: Play ball is going to happen with Arizona Little League,” Ducey said.


Story by Derrick Smith and Jackson Lautaret, Cronkite News