Guest Editorial: Let Them Play

By Scottsdale Pinetop

There’s something magical and heartwarming about the tradition of cheering on your local high school teams and watching students who play purely for the love of the sport. It bonds communities together and creates a unique comradery amongst strangers. For high school athletes, it teaches teamwork, humility after a devastating loss, winning graciously and accountability – all crucial student development assets.

But for high school athletes last year, these important memories, milestones and student activities were stripped away from them. We felt for the Class of 2020. How could you not? And now as many high school students continue to navigate the ever-changing environment of remote learning and canceled school functions – they’ve now been stripped of the ability to play sports this coming season.

This terrible decision was made last Friday as the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) Executive Board voted to cancel the winter season impacting boys and girls soccer, basketball and wrestling for high schools across the state. For thousands of athletes, from big cities to rural neighborhoods, this was a devastating and unfair blow.

There are few things harder than telling a kid they have to sit on the sidelines because of something out of their control. Few understand the emotional and mental impact of having such an important part of their identities ripped away from them by outside forces.

The AIA’s decision to cancel the winter season comes after a recent dramatic surge in COVID cases statewide. However, Arizona residents are still able to abide by guidelines and regulations that accommodate outdoor and indoor dining, casino gambling, shopping at malls or numerous other collective activities. How is that fair to them?

After the immense public outcry, thanks to an online petition started by Phoenix North Canyon senior basketball player Brandon Jackson that now has over 30,000 signatures, the board will meet again tomorrow at 10:30am to possibly consider a re-vote on the matter. Of which we highly encourage them to do so.

There is a safe way to get these kids back at practice. We saw protocols successfully and effectively executed during this past high school football season. Games and practices can be limited to participants and parents only. Masks would be required of all attendees with coaches ensuring that all protocols are being followed. Frequent testing can and should be implemented. It is doable.

We owe it to our kids to make this work. The AIA, coaches and administrators have a responsibility to get together and implement smart and safe strategies that both protects our students but also provide them with the essential high school experience that has been missed for far too long. Let them play.