High school athletes won’t need masks while competing in winter sports playoffs or during spring sports, AIA says – The Arizona Republic

Feb. 11, 2021; Scottsdale, Arizona, USA; Notre Dame Prep's Riley McMenomy (16) dribbles up the pitch against Saguaro's Hector Hernandez (17) during the first half at Notre Dame Prep. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Breen-Arizona Republic

Arizona high school basketball and soccer players, along with wrestlers, won’t have to wear masks during competition starting next week when the postseason begins.

Spring sports athletes also won’t have to wear masks while competing.

However, masks still will be required for student athletes while they are not actively competing.

The Arizona Interscholastic Association Executive Board approved the removal of the in-competition mask mandate on Tuesday morning for the start of the winter sports playoffs and all of the spring sports season.

Officials working the games or matches also won’t have to wear masks.

The decision comes after concerns have been raised by some coaches and others about challenges young athletes have had wearing masks while competing, along with inconsistent enforcement.

“The one group most consistent wearing masks, monitoring it, has been wrestling,” AIA Executive Director David Hines said. “And those numbers are not high at all. In fact, they’re very low.

“But because of the headgear, they’re able to keep the masks in place a little bit better than some of the other athletes.”

Spring sports competition includes baseball, softball, track and field, boys volleyball and girls sand volleyball. Competition begins March 12. The sports were allowed to begin practices on Monday.

The board initially approved a motion to remove the in-competition masks for spring outdoor sports, such as baseball, softball, track and field, sand volleyball,  tennis and golf, but keep the mask mandate in place for boys volleyball during competition because it’s played inside, but that later also was included.

The board was then set to approve the motion to keep the winter sports athletes all in masks during competition for the remainder of the season and playoffs, before board member Jim Dean presented the motion to stop the mask mandate for winter sports competition

The board voted 6-3 to end the in-game mask mandate starting with the winter sports postseason, although Chandler Unified School District Superintendent Camille Casteel suggested ending the mandate immediately.

Dean said would be better to wait another week to remove the mandate.

“I remain incredibly concerned about the inconsistent enforcement (of masks in competition). It’s impacting games,” Dean said. “You have high-achieving teams playing in games that are officiated with the masks one way, then the next game they’re playing in a game in which athletes are being sent out of the game on a regular basis.

“Going into the playoffs, that inconsistency can impact the outcome of the game. I remain very concerned about that as we move forward.”

Board member Jim Love said that if the winter sports mask mandate was being dropped with the start of post-season play, then boys volleyball players shouldn’t be forced to wear masks in competition.

“Now I don’t understand,” Love said in the meeting. “Indoor volleyball is going to have to wear masks and now you’re going to let the wrestlers be indoors hugging each other not having to be in masks. Is that fair?”

Girls wrestlers at state this weekend won’t have to wear masks in competition, because it’s part of the state playoffs competition, Hines said.

Hines added that the athletes in the play-in games this weekend for 2A boys and girls basketball and 3A boys and girl soccer still must wear masks, because it’s not the state playoffs and still considered to be part of the regular season.

The motion to allow for boys volleyball to remove the masks in competition was passed.

AIA spring high school sports competition was canceled in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The decision to ease the mask requirement comes as Arizona has seen a decline in the number of average daily COVID-19 cases reported by state officials over the past several weeks. At the same time, the number of people being vaccinated has increased. 

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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