PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- After three hours of discussion, the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) voted Friday to cancel winter sports this season. The vote came down to a 5 to 4 decision by the members of the board.

After a petition circulated online with people objecting the cancelation, the board decided to hold a special meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 12 to vote again on the issue.

Over the weekend we’ve watched the number of signatures grow on this petition demanding a re-vote. As of 5 a.m., it had more than 41,000 signatures. Parents and student athletes are fired up about the AIA’s decision and some coaches are bringing up fairness – especially since fall sports – like football still got a season.

That special meeting starts at 10:30 a.m. at the AIA office near 16th Street and Glendale Avenue in Phoenix.

In a statement released Friday, they say that due to the continued presence of Covid-19 and having the nation’s highest rate of coronavirus hospitalizations, the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC) made a recommendation yesterday to the AIA’s Executive Board to cancel the high school winter sports season.

“We do not see the situation improving very quickly. Unfortunately, it does not appear that there will be adequate time before the start of the spring season for a winter season to occur,” said Executive Board President Toni Corona.

Originally the competition was going to start on January 18th through March 1, but it will no longer happen due to COVID-19 concerns.

“Unfortunately, it is expected that the state will see a continued rise in Covid-19 hospitalizations for some time. As medical professionals, we cannot in good conscience recommend that students engage in a winter season under the current conditions,” said SMAC Committee Chair Dr. Wilson.

“While we understand the Board’s position, we are saddened by this decision, especially considering that club sports are continuing. To the best of our knowledge, never in our 100-plus-year history has the AIA canceled an entire season. We want nothing more than for our students to be active in school and participating in interscholastic sports and activities. It is my sincerest hope that all Arizonans will follow the CDC and Arizona Health guidelines by wearing masks, washing hands frequently, and practicing social distance to decrease cases and hospitalizations. If for no other reason, I hope we can do it for the kids.” said AIA Executive Director David Hines.

When word got out that winter sports were canceled, team group chats went wild. About 50 student athletes from different schools protested in front of the AIA offices, chanting ‘Let us play!’ as they held signs.

“Obviously everyone was really disappointed,” said Pinnacle High School senior and soccer team captain Emma McWilliams. “Your senior year, you always look forward to it and it’s your last year playing high school soccer.”

Her coach, Chris Aquino, says he won’t be surprised if club soccer picks up the slack by scheduling new tournaments. Normally club soccer takes a break during the school soccer season, but that could change this year. Aquino feels soccer is significantly safer than other sports because it’s outdoors, and wishes the AIA would have added more restrictions, rather than cancel the season.

“Even just letting them play and not having parents in the stands, to me we’d be totally ok with,” he said.

Junior Josh Rodgers plays basketball at Horizon High School. Though he wasn’t at the protest in Phoenix, he was just as disappointed.

“In the first postponement we were like, ‘Well at least we’ll have a season.’ And then hearing that today was like getting punched in the stomach. It sucks,” he said.

Jennifer Copeland says her two kids at Brophy College Prep made huge sacrifices so they could be on the field this semester. One son even stayed home while his family went on Christmas vacation.

“They’ve been quarantined,” she said. “They’re going to school online. They’re avoiding everything to have a sports season. To hopefully get recruited one day.”

Not everyone was surprised by the decision. La Joya Community High School basketball coach Roger Lefebvre hasn’t even seen his players in person since the summer because of the numbers in Avondale.

“It’s sad for our kids, it’s sad for the state – all the kids that are playing,” he said.

Lefebvre figured the season would get cancelled at some point.

“I wish they would have done this a long time ago,” he said. “The numbers are going through the roof.”

AIA officials say Spring sports, which are scheduled to begin March 1, will be dependent upon statewide metrics improving and further evaluation by SMAC and the Executive Board. 

 

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