The Bayfield High School football season is over.
Bayfield School District Superintendent Dr. K. Kevin Aten and the school board decided Tuesday night to close schools to in-person learning and also suspend athletics because of the spike in COVID-19 cases in La Plata County and within the school district.
“Due to the recent spike in COVID cases throughout La Plata County and our district, the school board and I have determined the responsible course of action is to temporarily suspend in-school learning and athletics across the district until further notice,” Aten said in a post to the school district’s Facebook page while the school board was in the middle of a meeting. “We understand that this is a hardship on families. This decision has not come lightly, but we firmly believe it is in the best interest of our students, staff, and community. We will release updated information as soon as it becomes available.”
The decision came as San Juan Basin Public Health has confirmed 224 new cases of COVID-19 in La Plata County in the last 14 days, more than all cases from March to August combined.
The Bayfield High School football team was slated to finish a shortened six-game regular-season Saturday at La Junta, a rematch of the 2017 Class 2A state championship game and 2016 semifinals. That game is now canceled.
BHS also canceled its home finale last week against Alamosa when the high school closed because of a positive COVID-19 case for a staff member.
On Tuesday afternoon, Bayfield School District indicated the high school would reopen Wednesday and that football practice would be allowed to continue Wednesday and Thursday before a travel day Friday to La Junta. That all changed Tuesday night during the school board meeting.
“It’s been really up and down,” said BHS senior Crosby Edwards. “I was super excited for Alamosa, then it got canceled the day of. It took our spirits down a lot. It was our last home game, and all of us seniors were hyped. Then, it didn’t happen, but we hoped they would reschedule it.
“Coming into this week, we were still hopeful. Coaches were getting us ready for La Junta with film. When the news hit me, it hurt. I didn’t think about it before, but it hurts knowing I will never get to play football again. A lot of the seniors feel the same way. We are feeling this. We played our last football game, and we didn’t even know it.”
Also in La Plata County, Durango School District 9-R moved all students to remote learning through Jan. 4. It followed a similar decision made by Montezuma-Cortez School District in neighboring Montezuma County, which will send students to online learning Thursday through Jan. 11. Montezuma-Cortez was the lone high school in Southwest Colorado to opt out of a fall football season in favor of a spring season when given the option by the Colorado High School Activities Association and Gov. Jared Polis.
However, Mancos, also in Montezuma County, voted Monday to continue in-person learning as well as athletics.
So far, Durango High and Ignacio High are still slated to play home games this week to conclude the regular season. Durango will hope to continue into the Class 3A state quarterfinals the following week.
Tuesday night’s decision in Bayfield was the latest twist in a challenging year for school sports. When the COVID-19 pandemic first swept the U.S. in March, the state basketball tournaments were canceled after teams had finished quarterfinal play on championship weekend. Then, all spring sports were canceled.
In the fall, football was initially postponed until the spring. But backlash across the state led CHSAA and Polis to reconsider offering a fall season. By mid-September, the option for a six-game fall season was provided.
BHS was able to play four games, going 0-4 to start a season for the first time since 2005. Though the Wolverines were competitive in several games, it wasn’t enough to get a win against three Class 2A opponents ranked in the top eight and Class 1A third-ranked Florence.
“Going into the last two games of the season, we really felt we were equal to those teams. We could have ended the season a lot differently than the first four games,” Heide said. “It’s tough not being able to end it on the field.
“Our guys came into this season with high expectations. Through the COVID situation, they stayed focused and worked hard. We didn’t meet our goals and dreams. That is disappointing. But I will never forget this team and will cherish the memories. The lessons they’ve learned through this, they will carry that with them. At some point in their lives, it will become a positive. Whether it is their first basketball game later this year or years down the road on a sideline watching their kids play and remembering some games they couldn’t play. I want our players to stay optimistic, keep a positive attitude and be good contributors to society and their families.”
The 0-4 finish will be the first time the Wolverines have not won a game in a football season since 1972. Four games are the fewest the school has played since 1953.
“We had high hopes coming into this season,” Edwards said. “We didn’t have the biggest or most talented team this year, but we had a lot of heart and wanted to make this little football town we have in Bayfield happy and proud.”
Heide, who has been the BHS coach since 2012 and led the Wolverines to Class 2A state titles in 2015 and 2017, said he will not make a decision about his coaching future until after the last game in the state is played. State championships are scheduled for Dec. 5, if Colorado is able to keep seasons going until that conclusion. Last week, more than 25% of games across the state were either rescheduled or canceled because of COVID-19.
“I am going to wait until the end of the season, reflect on a few things and go from there,” Heide said. “For now, I just want to thank the 2020 Bayfield Wolverines, the seniors especially, for having such a great, positive attitude and always sticking together through every game and always having hope that the next game we would come out with a W. In my heart, they did come through with some wins.”
For athletes such as Edwards, there is hope for a high school basketball season to start the first week of January. He also hopes to get back a spring track and field season after last year was canceled.
“I’m going to stay as hopeful as I can,” Edwards said. “Basketball is my main sport. Losing football right now hurts. But, if I don’t get to play basketball, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’ll put as much hope as I can into it and won’t put any negative feelings out there. I really look forward to having one more season my senior year.”