Sports balls on wooden background

The Arizona Interscholastic Association Executive Board voted Tuesday to drop its mask mandate for athletes and officials actively competing in their sport beginning with winter playoffs on March 9.

The board also discontinued the mask mandate for spring sports athletes who are actively competing. Coaches, players on the bench or in dugouts and parents in the stands must still wear masks through the end of the winter sports regular season. 

“Due to improving COVID-19 metrics, the AIA Executive Board voted to approve removing the mask mandate for the spring season and winter playoffs, including Spiritline,” the AIA said in an announcement.

“Students, coaches, officials and other personnel must wear a mask when not actively playing or in the arena of competition. All spectators in attendance for a contest must wear an approved mask or face covering. Please note that mesh face masks are not acceptable face coverings.”

Initially, the board voted for the mask mandate to continue for all players in boys volleyball – the lone indoor spring sport. 

The board then approved masks to continue to be worn for winter sports athletes before board member Jim Dean moved for the mandate to be lifted at the start of the postseason. That motion passed. 

The board subsequently dropped the mandate for boys volleyball.

Dr. Camille Casteel, the retiring superintendent of the Chandler Unified School District and an acting board member, raised concerns about singling out boys volleyball for the mandate.

 “When you look at the data we are receiving, it is two weeks behind,” she said. There’s been a steady decline for the last six weeks … if you project that six-week trend two weeks further, I would support all sports having the same aspect.”

The mask mandate was put in place before the start of the winter sports season as a recommendation from the AIA’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, which has guided the organization through the pandemic. 

Initially, the winter sports season was canceled but a re-vote just days later allowed the season to continue with the stipulation that all athletes wear masks. 

A potential modification to the mask rule was brought up in the board’s last meeting on Feb. 16 but was not officially voted on. 

At the time, board member Jim Love – who voted to cancel and then to reinstate winter sports – said he would vote to cancel the winter and spring seasons if the mask modification was changed. 

He maintained his stance on keeping the mask mandate in place for indoor sports. 

 “Any time you have anyone indoors and they’re talking and breathing hard that close to each other, they should have a mask on,” he said.

The 2020 spring sports season was canceled last year at the start of the pandemic. This year, the AIA has given all sports – baseball, softball, tennis, track and field, boys volleyball and beach volleyball – the go-ahead to begin March 12.