Sports balls on wooden background

The Arizona Interscholastic Association is pushing back the winter sports season for a second time, moving from a Jan. 5 to Jan. 18 start.

The decision comes amid a continuing surge in COVID-19 that has forced many school districts in the state to begin the second semester this week with virtual learning for all students.

“Our focus continues to be on keeping students in school and on the playing field safely,” Associate Executive Director Joe Paddock said in the release. “We believe this decision will help us preserve the winter sports season.”

The AIA Executive Board said the delay would also allow teams to practice for two weeks after winter break.

The same guidelines and recommendations from the AIA’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee that governed fall sports will remain in place once the winter season begins. 

With those recommendations, the winter sports season will not stop once it begins unless state health or government officials order all extracurricular activities to suspend operations. 

The recommendations allow teams to begin competition on Jan. 18 regardless of what key COVID-19 metrics used to determine the start of fall sports show. The metrics will only be used to determine whether fans are able to attend competitions. At this time, the metrics call for empty stands. 

The AIA said conferences will be given the opportunity to decide the total number of weeks of competitions for winter teams. That decision will be made in the next couple of weeks, according to the AIA. The winter sports season will conclude on March 5, with the spring season beginning March 1. 

Conferences will have the ability to modify the length of the spring season. 

“These measures will allow us to start the season and I hope, that as we see hospitalizations go down, some of the restrictions regarding spectators, be lifted,” Executive Director David Hines said in the release.

First-year Saguaro boys basketball coach Lucas Ramirez said he and his program support the AIA’s decision to further delay the season. He knows it is with the best interest of everyone in mind. 

“We are supportive of the AIA’s decision as we believe they have had out student-athletes best interest in mind from the beginning,” Ramirez said. “We will continue to practice as safe as possible as a program and look forward to any and all opportunities of a season.”

Mountain Pointe basketball coach Kaimarr Price he accepts the two-week delay as long as it means the season will be able to get started at some point this winter: “We just need to focus on what we can control. Two more weeks of practice definitely won’t hurt us. It’s a time to bond and get better as a team."