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In this Feb. 21, 2020 file photo, Yuma Catholic’s Isayah Rooks (left) moves the ball in front of Veritas Prep Academy’s Filippo Ldapiana hangs on during the first half of the Arizona Interscholastic Association 3A Conference State Tournament championship game at Williams Field High School in Gilbert.

Four days after a 5-4 vote canceled the upcoming winter season, the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s Executive Board re-voted on Monday regarding winter athletics.

It was the flip decision by Board member Jim Love that helped reinstate winter sports beginning Jan. 18. The Board voted 5-4 in favor to allow boys and girls basketball, soccer and wrestling to occur this season.

“I want to be able to give the schools themselves the choice of playing or not,” Love said during the nearly two-hour meeting.

The option to play or opt out, is already being put to use by one local school.

Yuma Union High School District schools and Yuma Catholic confirmed they will participate in the winter athletic season. However, 2A conference Antelope Union High School announced they will not be a part of the 2020-2021 winter season. The Rams do plan on participating in AIA athletics during the spring if COVID numbers drop.

“Well, I mean, it’s obviously good news,” YC athletic director Jeff Welsing said on the AIA’s reversal. “The news we got on Friday definitely wasn’t so good.”

In the AIA’s decision to reverse course, several major guidelines and protocols must be followed by each team.

All students, coaches and officials will be required to wear a cloth mask or gaiter for the entirety of a game/contest.

Each school will complete the AIA COVID-19 Athlete/Coach Monitoring Form the day of all games/contests and provide a copy to the opposing school prior to the contest.

Up to two parents or legal guardians may attend their student-athlete’s home games as allowed by the school and county guidelines.

Any school that violates any of the mandatory modifications, including the COVID-19 Return to Play Form, will lose access to AIA officiating.

Despite the installations of new protocols, the decision by the AIA to allow winter athletics came as a surprise to San Luis High School athletic director David Barrios.

“I was a bit shocked... We really didn’t know what to expect going into their Executive session today,” he said. “I think the Board members made a lot of good points and we agree with the decision and glad we’re able to bring sports safely to the kids.”

YC’s Welsing wasn’t caught off guard by the change of heart from the Executive Board.

“Once (the AIA) was going to reconvene and it started in that direction I thought for sure (winter sports) would be allowed,” he said. “Especially because outside organizations were planning independent leagues, club basketball, club soccer and club wrestling. From there, I think the AIA thought (the students) would be safer for us to (organize a season).”

The AIA also unanimously voted to allow two parents per athlete in attendance. Socially distanced and masks are required.

However, it is up to local jurisdictions whether or not spectators will be allowed in attendance.

According to YUHSD associate superintendent Tim Brienza, the district will be meeting with City representatives to discuss whether or not two family members can attend.

While it’s undetermined whether crowds will be allowed, the focus is on student-athletes returning to sport and all the qualities it provides to the kids.

“I think the most important thing as we’re in distance learning is the kids having the connection to the schools,” Brienza said. “For social and emotional reasons, that’s very important.”

Brienza added each school has the technology to provide live streaming for all athletics events. Every game will be aired online for spectators not in attendance.

6A representatives sent a poll out to each 6A school after the AIA’s Jan. 8 decision to cancel winter sports. A majority of schools responded back saying they wanted to participate this season, including Cibola.

“We wanted to play,” Cibola athletic director Brett Pavey said. “All the schools in Yuma wanted to give our kids a chance to get after it. There was no doubt about it. We know the kids have been working hard and we have pretty good mitigation plans in place to keep the kids safe.”

Winter programs have been practicing since November preparing for the season.

During that time, only ‘a couple’ cases of COVID have popped up inside athletic programs according to Brienza.

“They’ve been practicing for about two and a half months and we’ve had to stop a couple programs for 12 to 14 days,” he said. “As far as I know, everyone is practicing tomorrow...We had a couple incidents, but that’s not bad considering you have five campuses and so many different levels. It wouldn’t be the whole program, maybe just one level.”

The season locally will begin Jan. 18. San Luis boys basketball will host Willow Canyon while the girls team will travel to Willow Canyon.

Jackson Ramer can be reached at jramer@yumasun.com.

Jackson Ramer can be reached at jramer@yumasun.com.

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