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Student athletes spend year competing against COVID-19 pandemic

Christian Tucker (left), Tavian Dennis (right) (Courtesy photo/Christian Tucker and Twitter photo/ @DennisTavian)

This story is part of KTAR News’ “Pandemic in Arizona: One Year In” special report on 92.3 FM, online and our app.

LAVEEN, Ariz. — High school athletes love to compete against other teams, but players have found themselves competing against the COVID-19 pandemic instead.

During a school year filled with athletic uncertainty and restrictions, the players – and the adults in their lives – have endured.

The Arizona Interscholastic Association originally canceled winter prep sports but later reversed course.

This resulted in a variety of emotions for Kevin Tucker’s son, a senior point guard at Perry High School in Gilbert.

“He was on this rollercoaster,” Tucker said. “I went to check on him. He said, ‘I’m just mad.'”

Student athletes turned to other schools and club and sponsored sports — for a time.

Tucker even helped by chasing his son’s rebounds over the summer in 115-degree heat.

Yet no college coaches were chasing 17-year-old Christian Tucker because the COVID-19 pandemic wouldn’t let them travel.

“I just try to maintain contact with some of the coaches that I’ve been talking to,” Christian said. “I put together a little highlight tape and sent that out.”

Despite the rollercoaster start, Christian Tucker was able to play a winter season and made the playoffs.

The same couldn’t be said for the Cesar Chavez High School football team in Laveen, which only played three games in the 2020 season due to community spread of the virus.

Like Christian, junior defensive back at Cesar Chavez High School Tavian Dennis also made a video. But the 17-year-old needs to play next season in order to make new highlights and attract college coaches.

“I probably would be safer at home,” Dennis said, recalling his virtual learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. “But there is an opportunity I have to take. Football is a chance for me to get out of high school for free.”

Dennis’ teammates are playing 7-on-7 to social distance and practicing hits on bags instead of each other.

“It’s definitely better for person-to-person (contact),” Dennis said.

The players hope they can keep playing and would eventually like to hang out with their friends again after keeping away in hopes of not contracting COVID-19 to preserve their seasons.

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