The Arizona Interscholastic Association has set the high school cross-country state championships location for a November date still to be determined.
But that’s unless the season makes it to the proverbial finish line if mask-wearing and social distancing isn’t taken more seriously at the events.
The AIA made it official Friday that the Divisions I through IV’s state meet will be held at Freestone Park in Gilbert, according to Arizona Milesplit.
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Freestone Park is the same location as the inaugural Western Equinox XC Festival held on Sept. 19.
Cross-country is among the few classified “lower risk” high school sports in the COVID-19 pandemic, per the guidelines of the Arizona Interscholastic Association and the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC).
Many runners and spectators that have reportedly been ambivalent about the AIA’s 2020 fall sports modifications requiring them to wear masks in preventing the spread of the coronavirus.
The modifications outline that runners need to wear masks or face coverings under tents when they are not actively competing. Also, coaches and spectators need to wear them at all times at the events.
“The protocol is to wear a mask. I saw teams following this but many spectators were sporadically wearing them and not social distancing,” Division I state champion Gilbert Highland boys and girls cross-country head coach David Montgomery said. “The thing is, other events are going on like softball tournaments, youth soccer and Pee Wee Football and we’re seeing very few masks and very little social distancing at these events.
“It’s not fair to call out cross-country runners when others using parks are not following mask wearing or distancing. I think as coaches all we can do is keep telling our athletes to wear a mask and distance themselves when not running. We bought our athletes masks to wear at the meets and practice. With 92 kids, this is not easy but we just keep at them to follow protocol.”
The AIA’s cross-country Tournament Coordinator David Shapiro claimed that he had to be the “AIA mask police” asking multiple coaches at this cross-country season’s third major meet Desert Daylight Cross-Country Invite at Mansel Carter Oasis Park in Queen Creek on Friday.
Shapiro alarmed several coaches that he saw whole teams under tents not masked up or socially distanced, and the same for many parents in attendance.
He even spoke about the mask issue in relation to the division between President Trump and the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee Joe Biden supporters.
“About half of the AIA are Trump supporters and about half are with Biden, but we all understand that what we have decided on for modifications aren’t recommendations but are mandatory for our athletes’, coaches’, and parents’ safety,” Shapiro said to Arizona Milesplit.
The Desert Daylight races held five different 5K races with 19 teams. You can review all of the meet’s individual and team winners and other results here on Athletic.net.
Shapiro also mentioned the difficulty of booking cross-country events across the state’s number of COVID-19 cases that remain problematic.
The City of Gilbert allowed the Western Equinox XC Festival to take place but is mulling over ceasing further cross-country events on its fields after noticing many people at that event not wearing masks and/or adhering to social distancing requirements.
Gilbert’s city government and the AIA are slated to discuss the next steps on how the city will move forward, or refusal, to hold for more competitions at its city parks early next week.
The stoppage of events in Gilbert would include Titan Invite, Chandler Relays, The Phoenix Classic – Showdown at Sundown, state sectionals to qualify for the state championship that usually occur at Crossroads Park and the state championships.
The City of Phoenix isn’t much of an alternative.
When the Phoenix Public Parks Department reopened its fields on Sept. 10, it issued a statement on its website barring reservations for large gathering reservations on a fields until further notice as the PPPD continues tracking COVID-19 metrics and guidance by the Center for Disease Control.
Tempe’s Kiwanis Park and Cochise County are prohibiting races on their grounds as well.
“I do not want to have the season canceled as were already dealing with kids struggling mentally with all that’s going on,” Montgomery said. “They need sports and to be with their teammates. We take that away and things could get real bad for some kids.”
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Booking high school cross-country events remain difficult for AIA in pandemic