'It's just a mess': AIA says more than 800 HS games canceled this week as COVID omicron variant runs rampant

·9 min read
Dec. 21, 2021; Salpointe Catholic girls basketball coach Joseph Luevano talks to the Lancers during a timeout in game against Xavier Prep in Nike Tournament of Champions at Desert Vista High School in Phoenix, Ariz.
Dec. 21, 2021; Salpointe Catholic girls basketball coach Joseph Luevano talks to the Lancers during a timeout in game against Xavier Prep in Nike Tournament of Champions at Desert Vista High School in Phoenix, Ariz.

The highly contagious COVID omicron variant has hammered Arizona high school winter sports programs, with more than 800 games or matches canceled over three days this week because of the virus, the Arizona Interscholastic Association confirmed Wednesday.

On Tuesday, 18 boys basketball games were listed on the Arizona Interscholastic Association's azpreps365 web site as canceled. There were 18 girls basketball games canceled.

Four of Wednesday's 29 boys basketball games were listed as canceled. Eight of Wednesday's 31 girls games had been canceled.

Some wrestling tournaments have had to be canceled or shifted due to COVID-19.

But those numbers represent just a fraction of games or matches canceled in recent days, the AIA said.

Brian Gessner, head of officials for the AIA assigning referees to all levels (varsity, junior varsity and freshman), said in a text, "Over 800 games canceled in the last three days."

David Hines, executive director of the AIA, confirmed that, adding, "It's just a mess."

In all, 822 high school sports events were canceled this week alone as of Wednesday, AIA officials confirmed.

"I feel bad for the kids," Hines said.

Hines said that it's affecting all levels, freshman, junior varsity and varsity across the state.

Seth Polansky, sports information coordinator for the AIA, said, to be precise, a staggering 822 events have been canceled this week.

This current spike is taking a toll on officials working games.

"We've had more officials call off due to Covid this year to date than all of last year combined," Gessner said. "And while their symptoms are mild, we are still following protocols."

Hines said schools need to just follow through their protocols and try to get enough games in before the playoffs begin.

"They’ll work through their protocols and if they have to sit out and let kids recover then they can do that and make up games," Hines said. "The challenge will be three weeks to go before the playoffs, you start running out of dates."

Gilbert Perry's girls basketball team currently is on pause until further notice, coach Andrew Curtis said. He said Perry had to cancel two regular-season out-of-state games in a Las Vegas Martin Luther King Day event.

Chandler Arizona College Prep's boys basketball team had to shut it down this week with five players testing positive for COVID-19 and another five players at home sick, coach Clint Treadway said.

"The Omicron variant is going crazy," Treadway said in an email. "It's pretty out of control.

"Hoping this is the peak and everyone can finish their seasons unaffected," said Treadway, whose team is batting for a 3A playoff spot. "I've heard of several other teams missing guys, as well, including our soccer team who has four guys out."

Dec 14, 2021; Gilbert, AZ, United States; Perry's Kyle Waters (4) scores a layup against Mountain Pointe during a game at Perry High School.
Dec 14, 2021; Gilbert, AZ, United States; Perry's Kyle Waters (4) scores a layup against Mountain Pointe during a game at Perry High School.

Both Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista's boys basketball programs had to go on pause due to positive cases. The Ahwatukee schools are part of the Tempe Union High School District.

Because of so many cases among the district's teams, Tempe Union is going back to masks in practices for its schools and all non-competing activities, district Athletic Director David Huffine said. The district also includes Corona del Sol, Marcos de Niza, McClintock and Tempe high schools.

"It has been very challenging to keep teams on the field and court," Huffine said.

The winter indoor sports, basketball and wrestling, seem to be getting the worst of it. The other main high school winter sport, soccer, is played outdoors.

Chandler Prep wrestling coach Drew Hayes said that some schools are scrambling to put together a last-minute meet after Buckeye Verrado canceled its wrestling tournament this weekend.

"We were supposed to compete at Verrado on Friday and Saturday with our boys' and girls' athletes, but the Agua Fria School District canceled all large events for this weekend, including the tournament," Hayes wrote in an email. "Currently, none of my athletes are out due to COVID.

"Currently, some of the schools affected by the Verrado cancellation are scrambling to put together a meet for Saturday."

This is the start of Year 3 of COVID-19, and with a surge due to the omicron variant, Sahuarita wrestling coach Paul Vasquez calls it, "a never ending battle right now."

"The tracing is the worst part of it," he said. "Having to go compete with a patchwork lineup week after week. Not knowing who will be available day of, it's tough to navigate but we are doing what we need to in order to get competition in."

Phoenix Xavier Prep girls soccer coach Barb Chura said, "We haven't really been impacted."

But the private all-girls school's basketball team has been hit.

"Covid has definitely affected our already compact schedule this season," Xavier girls basketball coach Jennifer Gillom said in an email. "We already have two games to make up and it will be difficult to reschedule any more if this continues. My team has had only one practice with a full squad in 15 days, which could disrupt your game flow at this point of the season so close to the playoffs.

"We are staying focused on our goal and that is what keeps us motivated."

Yuma Kofa boys soccer coach Jamie Nicewander said soccer, being an outdoor sport, should be less affected than other indoor sports but he knows of many teams that have temporarily lost players before games because they have to be quarantined due to contact tracing.

"We are not immune to that as well," Nicewander said. "As always, it's very much any team can win on any given day, but even more now as starters from teams are pulled by schools because kids sat too close to other kids in their classes in school.

"I think almost all schools can field a varsity team if they truly want to when that happens, but it will have many JV players in some cases. Precautions help, but luck, or lack of it , maybe play a bigger part this year. We are ultimately just happy to be getting games this season."

Corona del Sol wrestling coach Jamie Varner said he had a multi-team meet canceled Wednesday and that now his team is working out in the wrestling room in masks.

Rio Rico girls soccer coach Daniel Rodriguez worries that parents may pull their kids from participating because of the omicron surge of positive cases.

Rodriquez said his program has been fortunate so far with only two confirmed cases, and no other team has had to postpone a game against his team.

"I attribute this to the fact that we practice and play outdoors," he said. "Also, the fact that Santa Cruz County has either the highest or one of the highest rates of vaccination in the state.

"To be honest, I think it was just a matter of time. I am concerned because we have a small program with few numbers. We have to share a lot of players. My fear right now is that some parents may have their athletes withdraw from the program. If this happens I don't know how we can be competitive. In talking to other coaches from around southern Arizona, they all fear the same thing and are feeling the same effects."

Kayenta Monument Valley wrestling coach Clyde McBride said he isn't sure if the surge is due to the sport of the holidays.

"As a team we didn’t have any issues until we took a break," he said. "Now we are fighting it. Because of Covid, we have not been able to travel to one tournament and have had two multiples canceled. My wrestlers match count will be low and records really won't reflect the quality of wrestler."

Tempe Prep girls soccer coach Megan Richardson said that she scheduled Senior Night early this season in case of a possible cancellation. That happened Tuesday, because, she said the opposing team had COVID cases.

"We have only one home game left; hopefully it will not be canceled as well," Richardson said.

Phoenix Shadow Mountain canceled boys basketball games this week, including Friday's game against Phoenix Thunderbird.

"So far three players and and three coaches on our team have had Covid," said Thunderbird coach Buddy Rake, who is a Phoenix attorney, and has been fully vaccinated and boosted. "Since it seems to be working it’s way towards us, I think the worst has yet to happen.

"I had depositions scheduled in Texas this week and all were canceled because lawyers had Covid. I am still recovering even though my test is now negative."

Coolidge boys basketball coach Dave Glasgow said that 12 of his 13 varsity players have received vaccination shots.

"So far we have had two non-rotation guys affected, one was a close contact and was out," Glasgow said. "One varsity assistant coach is at home awaiting test results. One JV assistant is at home with COVID."

Surprise Valley Vista girls basketball coach Rachel Matakas said that precautions began in tryouts before the season started.

“Some of the things we do is have our athletes isolate as much as possible away from other classmates in the classroom” she said. “They have to wear masks during practice and on campus. We are always reminding them of hand washing and hygiene.

“Fortunately, I have had only one athlete thus far get COVID and had to do the 10-day district mandatory stay home and the AIA protocol. I also remind my athletes and parents to limit their athletes from being gathered and crowded areas due to possible exposure.”

But Waddell Canyon View boys basketball coach Adrian Orona worries that COVID could soon cause winter sports in Arizona to pause if it does not get under control.

He said he can't say ow many cases of the coronavirus have been discovered in the Agua Fria Union High School District, only that cases are ramping up.

“Teacher and sub shortages, players and coaches testing positive, games being rescheduled, etc.,” Orona said in an email. “If we don't get this under control quickly, a shutdown (hopefully temporary) of the season is imminent.”

To suggest human-interest story ideas and other news, reach Obert at richard.obert@arizonarepublic.com or 602-316-8827. Follow him on Twitter @azc_obert.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: COVID omicron wreaking havoc on Arizona high school winter sports

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