Although many Native American schools had already canceled their high school winter athletic seasons, the Arizona Interscholastic Association voted 5-4 during a special meeting Jan. 8. (Photo/Hopi Jr/Sr High School)
POLACCA, Ariz. —Although many Native American schools had already canceled their high school winter athletic seasons, the Arizona Interscholastic Association voted 5-4 during a special meeting Jan. 8, to cancel winter sports at all member high schools because of the alarming rise in coronavirus and hospitalizations.
Prior to the AIA decision, Hopi Jr/Sr High School Athletic Director Ricky Greer had announced the school had cancelled its winter sports and spoke about the tough impact that the coronavirus was having on the Navajo and Hopi schools.
Hopi Jr/Sr High School has had classes online all year and the school has been on lockdown since Thanksgiving. The only workers on site are year-round employees such as administrators, business office and secretarial staff.
According to Greer, Hopi High coaches were supportive of canceling the winter sports.
“They felt the same way, we have to put the safety of the kids and community first,” he said. “We’ve lost a lot of community members in the last month.”
The decision to cancel the season came from the Hopi Jr/Sr High School Governing Board based on the recommendations from the coaches and administrative team, including Greer.
Greer said canceling winter sports is particularly tough on student athletes because sports become a part of their daily routine.
“It gives them a chance to showcase their talent and its part of their lives,” he said. “But at the same time we have to put student safety first. I’m proud of the leadership on Hopi and Navajo because they were more strict than the state or cities about the protocols. We must put the safety of our community first.”
Many coaches at Hopi Jr/Sr High have been working with the student athletes online, telling them how to stay in shape, advising them to get outside to run or play basketball on their local courts, while social distancing.
Student athletes who are used to lifting weights are being told to lift food cans instead of weights if they don’t have weights.
Athletic trainer Alyssa Frederick continues to work with around 30 student athletes online. Fredericks was able to get athletic tape and other supplies in order for students to practice sports medicine on family members while they are at home. Greer hopes that advisors for other student clubs see this and reach out to their students in similar ways online.
“We need to build on this,” he said.
While he hasn’t spoken to many students, Greer said he does talk to a lot of parents. They say that students are disappointed, but said student athletes also understand because they can see the impact of the virus in the community.
“It’s not easy because the student athletes want to be out there,” Greer said.
He said the impact of not having sports for the youth is huge.
“They lack that outlet that they are used to having,” he said. “They miss the social interactions with their teammates and other schools.”
He said mental health is a concern as well.
“We need to hope and pray we can get out there as soon as possible. They understand that safety comes first,” he said.
Greer said staying at home allows students more time to be with their families and could help deepen their spirituality. But he is reminding them to stay smart and to socially distance themselves.
Greer, who has been working from his home in Winslow, has only gone to the school twice since Thanksgiving.
Currently, coronavirus cases have been increasing on the Navajo and Hopi reservations and across the state. A reservation-wide lockdown is in place and employees who were at Hopi Jr/Sr High School have been told to leave by 3 p.m. in order to be home by 5 p.m. Greer said Hopi businesses were also asked to close by 3 p.m.
“It doesn’t look like this will end anytime soon,” he said.
But Greer said the arrival of the vaccine has given him hope that the coronavirus outbreak will be controlled soon.
“There is a real chance that students may be learning from home the entire school year,” he said.
Greer said all Hopi and Navajo high schools in their league have cancelled winter sports because of virus.
The only two schools in their league who have not cancelled winter sports are St. Johns and Round Valley.
According to Greer, those schools had to move into another region this year because the other 2A schools in this region cancelled their winter sports.
St. Michaels and Page are the only reservation schools that are currently holding winter sports.
The Hopi Tribe is working to get health professionals and first responders vaccinated before moving on to educators and elders. Some educators, like Greer, have received the vaccination.
“The vaccine won’t make COVID go away, but it will control it just like the mumps and other diseases,” he said. “I got my vaccine. My arm was a little sore, but I didn’t have any other reactions.”
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