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After initially canceling the winter sports season last week, the Arizona Interscholastic Association voted 5-4 vote reverse course and reinstate the Arizona high school winter sports season at a special executive board meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 12.

The high school winter sports season will start Monday, Jan. 18, with a mask mandate for all coaches, student-athletes and officials during competitive play. Masks must be a cloth mask that covers the mouth and the nose, said David Hines, AIA executive director.

“Athletics is a choice and if a student makes the choice to play with their AIA school team, a mask will be required. No exceptions,” he said. “This is consistent with 16 states across the country that have the same protocols or modifications in place.”

The executive board also voted to not allow fans at winter season high school sports events, and teams will have to complete an AIA-issued COVID-19 monitoring form and give it to the opposing team prior to the competition or contest.

However, the board voted to allow up to two parents or guardians per home-team athlete to attend if state and local guidelines and the hosting facility’s occupancy under social distancing guidelines permit attendance.

Junior varsity players who travel with their school’s varsity team will also be exempt from the fan ban as long as they follow the AIA’s mask mandate.

AIA schools who are found in violation of the updated COVID-19 mandates risk losing access to AIA officials.

“I know there are some questions about why has it [the situation] changed from the fall to the winter. It’s very obvious,” Hines said. “During the fall we met the metrics, which were about 10 times less than they were at this time. Comparing the fall to right now is like comparing apples to oranges.”

After the meeting, the executive board released a joint statement about their decision to reinstate the winter sports season:

“This has been a very challenging situation. While we all desire to have our high school students in school and participate in interscholastic sports and activities, we feel it is imperative to consider the recommendations of medical professionals based on their expertise. Reinstating the winter season poses a risk to the healthcare system, which could impact students who may be injured. We believe that these additional modifications will serve to mitigate this risk as much as possible. Our member schools and families must understand how critical it is to adhere completely to all modifications.”

Tuesday’s special meeting was held in response to the overwhelming public outcry across the state over the AIA executive board’s 5-4 vote to cancel the winter season on Friday, Jan. 8. The recommendation to cancel the season was originally made by the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, citing hospital capacity concerns due to COVID-19 throughout the state.