How COVID impacts AZ high school sports & clubs - AZEdNews
Sections    Wednesday March 29th, 2023

How COVID impacts AZ high school sports & clubs

Rio Rico High School's Football Team During Practice. Photo Courtesy Rio Rico High School Yearbook Staff

As many students prepare for their first football games of the season on Friday, the COVID-19 case surge is impacting Fall sports and student clubs around the state.

“The recent surge in cases has affected five of our seven high school athletic programs. This resulted in team activity shutdown for brief periods of time at the high school level,” said Mark Ernster, athletic director for Peoria Unified School District.

“Games at both the elementary and high school have been rescheduled to a later date due to an increase in the number of students home on county quarantines,” Ernster said.

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Rio Rico High School Hawks football team members during practice. Photo courtesy Rio Rico High School Yearbook staff

Peoria Unified, like many school districts around the state, is seeing greater student participation in sports and clubs just a month after school started.

“Athletics add an engaging component to the student experience and now that more students are back on campus, there is an eagerness to return to our pre-pandemic activities,” Ernster said.

In Tolleson Union High School District, Derek Fahleson, CMAA anddirector of athletics, safety & security, said“We have put one program, West Point football, in a pause mode for eight days when cases on that specific team met the County and Arizona Interscholastic Association requirements to do so.”

“We are requiring masks at after school activities when participants are not actively participating,” Fahleson said. “We are continuing to use our layers of mitigation during extracurriculars to minimize any spread during those events.”

Tolleson Union students’ participation in Fall sports decreased this year from previous years, Fahleson said.

The communities in Tolleson and Avondale that Tolleson Union High School District serves had consistently high transmission rates and confirmed cases of COVID-19 during this and previous surges during the pandemic.

“There are students working to support their families during this time. There are students still concerned about their personal health and those around them. Students are avoiding additional unnecessary risks, extracurriculars, and focusing only on academics,” Fahleson said.

Students participation in clubs and sports

More students are taking part in athletics and student clubs than in past years, said Chris Laughland, vice principal of athletics, for Santa Cruz Valley Unified School District #35.

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Rio Rico High School dance students during practice. Photo courtesy Rio Rico High School Yearbook staff

Rio Rico High School attributes this to our staff (making) building relationships with students a priority, especially coming off of ‘closure’ years,” Laughland said. “We talk a lot about giving our kids the best high school experience we can provide.”

“Most students are jumping at the chance to compete, build camaraderie with others and find a sense of normalcy in their lives,” Laughland said. “With a student-centered staff, we are embracing the social and emotional needs of our students by promoting our programs to the max.” 

So far, Rio Rico High School has “been very fortunate” that it has not had to reschedule any activities due to COVID-19, Laughland said.

“We have taken some extra precautions and conducted our parent meetings virtually instead of in-person. Callout meetings for all student groups have happened naturally thus far,” Laughland said. 

“Our athletic department is not looking at COVID-19 as a barrier, but simply as a hurdle to overcome heading into a new norm,” Laughland said. “We continue to embrace change and pivot as needed to keep our students safe while also competing.”

While the Rio Rico High School Hawks “have been ‘nested’ for the past two years. We have been blessed with the opportunity to be together in-person and compete,” Laughland said.

“To support that current state, our new athletics mantra is ‘It’s Time to Fly.’ We have to get out there and re-establish Relationships; showcase Excellence; and flex our Hawk Pride! We must continue to focus and live through our core values – We REP!” Laughland said.

Why athletics and clubs are so important for students

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Rio Rico High School Volleyball team does a blocking drill during practice. Photo courtesy Rio Rico High School Yearbook staff

For many students, their motivation for going to school is participating in the extracurricular activities, clubs, or sports that they enjoy, give them meaning, where they feel valued and let them feel like they make a difference on campus.

“A healthy school culture addresses the importance of academics, but also has a firm understanding of what athletics and clubs provide students,” Laughland said.

Providing a space or avenue for each child on a campus is huge to the overall development of a child, Laughland said.

“These spaces give students a passion to follow, or for some, introduce exposure to something new, while also getting an education. They build confidence in students, provide life lessons and open future opportunities to showcase excellence and pride to others in the community,” Laughland said.

Athletics are a beneficial and valuable experience for all students, said Ernster with Peoria Unified School District.

“Athletics is an area in which young men and women can develop the skills they will need to meet the demands and challenges of adult life,” Ernster said.

Peoria Unified’s K-12 athletic programs focus on the core values of discipline, commitment, accountability, sportsmanship, and servant leadership, Ernster said. 

“Through these values and the hard work of all coaches across this district our students are building their future and leaving a legacy behind,” Ernster said.

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A member of Rio Rico High School Golf team gets some tips from a coach. Photo courtesy of Rio Rico High School Yearbook staff

“In a community such as ours where we are small, student teams and clubs are a rallying point of pride with community members,” Laughland said. “Businesses and families in Rio Rico are extremely loyal to the mission and vision of schools as they entrust schools to develop their children into future leaders.” 

“We have a responsibility to foster the growth of the whole child. The social-emotional well-being of a student can be supported through arts, activities and athletics,” said Fahleson with Tolleson Union High School District.