Arizona Western College Returns To Sports Safely
Arizona Western College has restarted its sports seasons after pausing last March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But as case numbers in Yuma County continue to rise, it won’t be the same for those who support Matadors Athletic teams.
Arizona Western Athletics have long enjoyed a strong following among Yuma County residents. Locals and winter visitors have packed the stands in The House, the main gym for basketball and volleyball, as well as the outdoor fields for baseball, softball and soccer.
After ending their seasons abruptly last March due to the pandemic, those sports returned for practices and began their seasons in January and will continue in February. The House will not be rocking as usual as school officials have made the difficult but necessary decision to hold games there with no fans in attendance. Home games will instead be streamed online for free.
The outdoor sports will allow a limited attendance, with distanced seating and masks required. Tim Slack, the associate athletic director, said everyone in AWC Athletics is committed to bringing sports back safely.
“They have to follow our guidelines," Slack told KAWC. "So if somebody is outside of those parameters, then adjustments have to be made and that could result in either a player being held out or a team being shut down for a couple of weeks.”
Student-athletes are tested for COVID-19. They are required to submit a weekly health check and follow protocols to limit interaction with their teammates outside of practices and games.
Softball player Iliana Manzano said it was difficult for her and her teammates to end their season last year, just as it was getting under way. She’s ready to play now.
“I feel like I’m back home in my routine having softball and class," Manzano said. "I think the main thing is I love seeing my teammates so being with them is really keeping me going. I’m excited for this season. I saw how fast it can be taken away just like that so now that we have it back I don’t want to take anything for granted.”
COVID-19 is personal for Matadors Basketball player Leo Gerardo. The El Paso native lost an aunt to the virus in another border community hit hard. He had to practice at home because gyms in the western Texas city were shut down. Playing basketball in Yuma is helping him move forward.
“The fans here in Yuma are amazing," Gerardo said. "Not having them is different. You can’t feed off the crowd. Having fans supporting us online means a lot.”
His teammate Najeeb Muhammad said there’s a payoff for playing in empty gyms.
“It brings us together more as a team," he said. "It allows us to have better communication.”
Slack said the lack of paying fans is a financial loss but one they can absorb. He says it's the fan support they miss.
“We’re grateful just to be playing and we’re grateful to be practicing," he said. "Every game is a gift and the next day’s not promised. And so we’re doing everything that we can to take advantage of that.”
For now, you can follow Matadors Athletics at awcmatadors.com.