While it took some time for the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) to figure out whether they would even have a basketball season, the organization eventually put a season together for the many high schools in the state to take part in. While the players wore masks during competition and most spectators were not permitted into the gymnasiums during the games, the AIA made it work and put together a season to remember. On Saturday, around the state at at many different gymnasiums, the AIA crowed numerous programs as state champions - finishing off a season that many believed would never have taken place.
Initially, the AIA had decided to cancel the season in January, but after a major uproar from the coaches, parents and players, the AIA decided to change their decision quickly, and move to having a shortened season with masks being worn by the players during the competition. While it seemed very strange to have the state's basketball players competing against one another with masks on, it was a simple fact that did not alarm the players and coaches. Instead, the opportunity to have a high school basketball season, when it was believed that there would not be one, and while many other states were not playing, was enough to motivate each student-athlete to give their best each night in every game - regardless of the masks being worn or the limited amount of fans in attendance.
As our Arizona Preps' scouts and writers traveled each night to support Arizona's many boys and girls student-athletes in their pursuit of playing, and ultimately landing an opportunity to extend their playing careers, it was obvious to our staff what we were doing, and just how important our role was in creating opportunities for Arizona's youth. This large number of high school boys and girls in the state of Arizona were once faced without having a season at all, but now the AIA had given them a chance to play, but they still were playing without any real exposure to college coaches - an even much bigger problem looming for Arizona's senior basketball prospects this spring.
Our Arizona Preps' staff, while often unappreciated, literally put our lives on the line during a pandemic, to help Arizona's student-athletes gain exposure, and to maximize their performance through our social media and electronic media outlets. I believe our Arizona Preps' staff deserves a nomination for some form of Nobel Peace Prize for what we did over the past year, and continue to do for Arizona's aspiring student-athletes. While this is definitely far-fetched and not realistic, our staff of volunteers have really made it happen over the past year, and I am very proud and indebted to our staff for their consistent support of Arizona basketball.
To see the faces of each of these young men and women during our many interviews that we did with players after and before games; to see the level of intensity that these kids played with during the games; to see the joy on the faces of each of the state champions crowed this past weekend, it proved that this 2021 season, while one to definitely remember forever, had to be played.
It is rather unfortunate and very sad to know that the Phoenix Union District actually cancelled the basketball seasons of each of their schools this season. Unbelievable to me, as so many student-athletes were not given the opportunity to play this season. For those that were given the opportunity, it was an inspiring season filled with hope for so many, as AIA member student-athletes looked to be given the opportunity to play, while prep schools and The Grind Session flourished almost instantly in the Fall, as members of AIA programs patiently waited for their chance to take the floor.
While this season was shortened and lacked the packed gymnasiums of old, the looks on the faces of the players, as they were crowned as state champions last weekend, looked no different from any other season. It was the same look of old - a look of excitement and joy. In many ways, the programs that won it all this weekend overcame much more than previous state champions. While they didn't play as many games, each student-athlete had to endure much more this season, just to make it to the court. Each student-athlete had to first overcome catching the COVID-19 virus, just to reach the basketball court. They had to wear masks while playing, and had to perform at a high level without the usual fan support and screaming student sections. They had to make it happen during a season that many did not believe would ever happen.
It seemed like just yesterday when it was wondered if there would even be a 2021 high school season, and now we have completed the season, and the state is much better because of it. Well done AIA. It wasn't perfect. Of course not. But it was a job well done and many student-athletes are better now because of it. This has been a very difficult year for all of us, but not having a high school season would have been catastrophic for so many.
Congratulations to each of the state champions crowed this weekend, and to all of the high school teams in the state, players and coaches, for your hard work and flexibility during a year that will shape our futures for the rest of our lives.