As summer camp came to an end, the chance of seeing Highland athletes back in action for the fall season was uncertain.
“We were all optimistic about fall sports and we had all the protocols set down to return,” Highland Athletic Director Brandon Larson said. “The closer we got and when the numbers spiked in July, that’s when the nervousness started to kick in.”
Over the summer, Larson worked with other Gilbert Public Schools athletic directors to establish policies and protocols for the fall season. Their group effort has paid off, giving the Gilbert district games to play.
Now having concluded the season, the Highland Hawks football team has played every scheduled game.
“There are players and teams out there in the country who aren’t able to play right now, so we’re super lucky for this opportunity and I’m just thankful we’re able to play,” senior running back Max Davis said.
As the season approached, news broke of Chaparral’s football team shutting down all events due to two positive cases amongst the team. Later on, many more Arizona high schools would follow with their own COVID-19 cases.
Throughout the season, Highland head coach Brock Farrel has used the Chaparral situation to convey a message: Is it worth it?
“I told my guys, is it worth going to In-N-Out with your friends to miss out playing Chandler who is fifth in the nation?” Farrel said. “Is it worth hanging out with your girlfriend all weekend long to not play against Hamilton who is No. 25 in the nation?”
Throughout September, Highland began transitioning back into teaching in the classroom. This included required masks, social distancing amongst the students in the classroom and everywhere else on campus. With over 3,000 students, the school has managed to prevent an outbreak since the full return on Sept. 21.
However, in-person learning has developed a new fear among student athletes: Contact tracing.
If a student tests positive for the coronavirus, the county requests seating charts from the school and sends surrounding students home for a 14-day period.
Larson has already seen the effect on Highland athletics. Two days before a badminton matchup against Desert Vista, senior Allison Teague, the top player for the Hawks, was sent home due to contact tracing. The Hawks battled, but lost 5-4 against the Thunder, ultimately losing the section title game.
While Larson acknowledges the outcome could have been similar, the issues of moving up each player on the depth chart “presented problems that could have been avoided.”
The Hawks’ football team has also lost three players to contact tracing, according to Larson. To avoid being sent home and missing playing time, the team began taking action to protect themselves.
“We are all contacting our teachers and asking if we can be moved to the corner of our classrooms so if somebody in our class comes down with it, we wouldn’t be affected.” Davis said.
Farrel and Larson both acknowledge the situation is “out of our control” and players in any sport could miss games.
“The hardest part is you can follow everything, and someone in the community can get it and be in your class and you’re sent home for 14 days,” Farrel said. “That’s the biggest tragedy of it all.”
With the postseason on the horizon, Davis knows the team is still focused on finishing the season and winning a state championship.
“We all realize that we are a part of something huge right now, and football means more than a conversation or interaction with people at school,” Davis said. “We have something special right now and we don’t want to ruin it.”