When the Arizona Interscholastic Association agreed to green light winter sports for 2021, several COVID-19 mitigation strategies were also announced.
Among them, a requirement for students, coaches, parents and officials to wear masks at all times, completion of a monitoring form on game days for each school, and while fans would be allowed, they'd be limited.
"Up to two parents or legal guardians may attend their student-athletes home games as allowed by school and county guidelines," read the association's Winter Sports modifications document, published January 12.
That meant parents for students on the visiting teams would not be allowed to attend in-person. Instead, they'd have an opportunity to watch a live stream online.
"Every time my kid has a game one of us has to be there," said Holli Stella. Her son, Gavin Stella, plays varsity soccer for Basha High School. "What if somebody gets hurt, and their parents aren't there?"
It's exactly what happened to Stella's 15-year-old last month. The Basha Bears goalkeeper took a dive trying to save a goal against the Queen Creek Casteel Colts.
“We just saw him go down and we just saw him you know lay there and we didn’t know what was happening, but we obviously saw people going like this and that’s when we started to worry," said Jason Stella, Gavin's dad. “To not have somebody there to be able to you know comfort them... It didn’t make a whole lot of sense.”
The sophomore wound up in the hospital for days, after undergoing surgery to repair a broken nose, and multiple facial fractures.
“You want to un-see it, but you will never be able to un-see that, you know? said Holli.
Days after their son's injury, the Stellas reached out to the AIA, and other parents began gathering signatures to ask the policy to be re-considered. An online petition gathered more than three-thousand signatures.
Thursday, the AIA voted to loosen restrictions and allow two parents per athlete to attend away games. The executive board citing improvements to COVID-19 metrics, a decreasing number of cases and increased hospital bed capacity.
Still, the Stella's relieved, no matter what the reasoning.
“Accidents happen in sports," added Jason. "I was extremely happy to get a text this morning where they opened it back up and allowed for it."