State athletics body approves year-round practice

Football limited in use of helmets or shoulder pads

The Arizona Interscholastic Association’s legislative council passed a measure in Phoenix on Friday, March 3, that allows high school coaches to now have practices year round with their teams.

In a landslide, the measure passed by a 39-5 vote, essentially clearing a path for coaches to hold organized practices at any moment during the year.

The measure does not put limitations on practices outside a season for any sport other than football, which is not allowed to use helmets and shoulder pads during workouts.

Dr. Herold Slemmer, executive director for the AIA, said whenever there is major change within the bylaws, “it creates a ripple effect in the culture of our sports.”

“Coaches may take advantage of this in the offseason, which may have positive and negative effect. Some athletes may cherish the opportunity, for others it may constrain them,” Slemmer said.

The legislation goes into effect July 1. Previously, coaches were permitted to run organized practices during their sport’s respective season, and during the summer from the day school let out in May until the first Monday in August.

An amendment for spring football practice was introduced prior to the vote. AIA amended bylaw 23.9.1 on spring football instructions now states, “A coach may instruct candidates for the high school’s football squad for 18 practices, commencing on the 43rd week of the AIA standardized calendar and concluding in the 46th week.”

It passed as emergency legislation and takes effect immediately, just in time for spring football in May, according to AIA executive assistant Tayler Coady.

Missy Townsend, athletic director at Prescott High School, said she has a “few concerns” with the AIA’s legislative council vote on year-round practices.

“As a proponent of multi-sport participation, I am concerned that some our student athletes and their families will think they have to participate in one sport year round to make a team,” Townsend said. “That is not the case.”

The second-year athletic director added that another “struggle” for the school will be a lack of facilities.

“We already do not have the space to allow for multiple programs to practice at the same time,” Townsend said. “All sports teams that will be in season will take top priority. Many programs will find they do not have space to practice year round.”

Bradshaw Mountain High School athletic director Mark Ernster hopes to figure out the best way to not only share athletes in multiple sports, but run year-round programs.

“I plan on meeting with all of my head coaches to come up with some general guidelines so that we’re all in agreement on what’s fair in order to keep the multi-sport athlete on campus,” Ernster said.

Ernster added with the new policies in place, programs can train at a high level legally on a year-round basis, eliminating the loopholes in the system that programs used to utilize across the state.

“I believe the new system could benefit all programs if we can work as a team and agree not to abuse the rule,” Ernster said. “And continue to encourage the sharing of athletes, and lastly not burn out the student athlete with too much activity in the offseason.”

Slemmer added the new legislation will force small schools to cooperate within the confines of their own athletic department as a whole, because coaches depend on each other to help share student athletes across the board.

“Or they won’t have those sports,” Slemmer said.