Twenty-four hours after Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and the Colorado High School Activities Association announced they would reconsider the possibility of high school football being played this fall instead of a postponed spring season, CHSAA doubled down on playing in the spring.
Polis said Tuesday during a news conference that he would work with CHSAA to approve football for high schools in areas of the state that have been able to return to in-person learning. One night earlier, CHSAA Commissioner Rhonda Blanford-Green said it would be possible to reconsider the Aug. 4 decision that altered the entire schedule of high school sports for the 2020-21 school year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the CHSAA Board of Directors met Tuesday night and voted unanimously to stick to the new condensed four-season schedule that includes football being played in the spring during “Season C.” Practices will begin Feb. 22, and games will start March 4.
“We understand that our school communities would like to return to all levels of normalcy,” Troy Baker, the President of CHSAA’s Board of Directors, said in a statement posted to CHSAANow.com. “We listened to all parties and the voices of our membership resonated strongly to support the plan as approved in August. The plan aligns with the CHSAA mission. All students have an opportunity to play a season during the 2020-21 school year.”
CHSAA had hoped to play football in the fall throughout the summer. The governing body for high school sports in Colorado submitted proposals to the governor’s office for approval in July. Ordinances limiting participation to only 25 people - including players, coaches, referees and game workers - on a field at one time would need to be relaxed to allow for football to be played. CHSAA did not get approval in time for a season to start as regularly scheduled.
But, after Polis said he would reconsider that decision Tuesday, CHSAA chose to stick with its new plan. Polis absolved himself this time and put the blame squarely on CHSAA’s shoulders.
“I have said from the beginning that it will take all of us - people at home, local communities, governments, businesses, and organizations working together to crush the spread of this virus,” Polis said in a statement Wednesday. “Our administration was looking forward to allowing more student-athletes to begin their season this Fall, but if the CHSAA board unanimously agrees that they should delay their season until the Spring in an effort to ensure that they are better prepared to protect the safety of student-athletes then our administration full respects that decision.
“The important thing is that every CHSAA sanctioned athletic team sport will occur this school year giving kids the opportunity to learn important skills by participating in team sports.”
School administrators, coaches and players were left with even more questions than answers Wednesday, most saying they don’t know why this week’s announcements about reconsideration were ever made.
“I think it’s a shame for families and students to have gotten their hopes up just to have this come through as the final decision,” said Durango School District 9-R Athletic Director Ryan Knorr. “I don’t think enough is being explained about the logistics around what this would have looked like in terms of the governor’s guidelines for football and what actually went into the board of directors conversations prior to a vote, but it’s hard for families to have the ups and downs with this news. Sometimes you don’t want to plan the parade before you know the weather.”
Polis had qualified his statement Tuesday by saying it may not be possible for every school in the state to start to play football this fall, especially schools where in-person learning is not yet taking place. He said he would want to make sure CHSAA provided a season in the spring for those schools that would not be able to play in the fall.
Rather than divide the state into two seasons, thus not being able to crown a true state champion, CHSAA opted to stick with the spring schedule.
“We are focused on getting school started and running smoothly, as well as handling all the issues of running a school district and trying to have that be as normal as possible,” CHSAA Board of Directors member Richard Hargrove said in the statement on CHSAANow.com. “We do not want to travel. The biggest thing for me in the end is that we have continued to move the goalposts, and every time we turned around, we had something else we had to adjust to.
“The discussion last night amplified that there was another potential goalpost movement. We have already developed a calendar that addresses the concerns of health officials, and gives all students a season and a chance to participate. We need to move forward with that plan.”
CHSAA’s board said the safety, physical and emotional well-being of student-athletes was at the forefront of every decision. But the news cycle since Monday evening took another emotional toll on the players while the decision process was played out in public.
Before Polis’ announcement Tuesday, nearly 14,000 people across the state had signed a petition on Change.org urging CHSAA and the governor to let high school football play this fall. Wednesday’s decision by CHSAA renewed anger across the state.
“While we are not surprised by their decision, we are disappointed,” said Durango assistant coach Ryan Woolverton, father of senior quarterback Jordan Woolverton. “Disappointed for the kids that got their hopes up because leadership in the governor’s office and CHSAA made a strong indication that, after revisiting the fall season, we were playing this fall. Kids were elated and excited based on information put on social media and the news. Toying with the kids like this is unacceptable.
“They made the mistake of throwing comments out there before setting a plan, and it backfired. And our kids lose again. Our kids have worked into a great routine and had accepted this decision. They will again, but this one hurts after the roller coaster ride they had the last 48 hours.”
Colorado’s reconsideration of fall football came a week after Michigan reversed course and decided to approve a fall football season. Colorado’s neighbors Nebraska, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming are among 18 states that are playing this fall. Colorado and New Mexico are two of 15 states that will play in the spring.
“Sitting around and watching other states play on a Friday night knowing we are supposed to be out playing on our field, it’s been tough,” Jordan Woolverton said. “You love playing the game and miss it so much all the time.”
Added frustration has come as youth football is being played across that state - though not in Southwest Colorado in the Young America Football League, which is based in New Mexico.
“As coaches and parents, we will have a lot of talks of refocusing and not trying to understand why border states are playing successfully and why we aren’t,” Ryan Woolverton said. “Honestly, many of us have heard so many stories, we aren’t sure who to believe on why we aren’t playing. It seems political, and quite a few people are hiding behind the fingers they are pointing. All we want is transparency and leadership that isn’t worried about likes on Twitter and does what’s best for the kids, whether we are playing or not playing. We can handle the decision, just not the games they’ve played with these kids.”
Montezuma-Cortez head coach Ivan Mack said the Panthers players had mixed reactions to Wednesday’s news. Many had made alternate plans for the fall, and the team was excited to have some basketball players join the team in the spring once hoops season was over. Now, that plan will continue to move forward.
“Nothing shocks us anymore with as crazy as the last few months have been,” Mack said. “Some of our guys were excited to maybe play in the fall and some were a little apprehensive. A lot of them had already set their minds to spring. Guys want to be in the right frame of mind when the season starts.”
CHSAA said it did consider how the decision would affect those who had already made alternate plans to participate in other school activities or club sports. It also had to take into consideration referees and other game workers who had already made different plans this fall.
“Our state has seen new golf, tennis, softball, and cross country teams formed statewide,” Terita Walker, a CHSAA Board of Directors member, said in the statement. “Once this plan was rolled out, school administrators and families began to reshape their lives around the calendar. We are moving forward knowing all of our students will have the chance to participate in 2021.”
Ignacio High School started a boys cross-country team this year with several football players, even linemen, joining the team. In previous years, IHS runners would compete for Bayfield. IHS head football coach Alfonso “Ponch” Garcia said he was excited when it was announced football might return to fall, but he didn’t get his hopes up.
“For them to make a change would have been a miracle,” Garcia said. “I was ready to call the kids in and get ahead of things if it was going to happen, but I was not counting my chickens on it. This has been really hard for the players, but a lot of them went out for cross-country as soon as they found out we weren’t playing in the fall. A lot of the kids stopped coming to lift weights in the morning because they were pretty upset. For me, it’s a bummer not seeing them every morning because I had my biggest group coming to lifting in Ignacio since I’ve been here. Now, I only have seven or eight. It’s tough.”
The four seasons - A, B, C and D - will remain. Football will still be played in Season C after basketball and wrestling during Season B. Basketball and wrestling will begin practice Jan. 4. Season A will continue to only feature boys golf and tennis, cross-country and softball.
Now, CHSAA and the governor will have to deal with further backlash created by the decision process being played out in the public eye. Parents, players and coaches will continue to wait until the spring for football.
“We’ve been in contact with the governor’s COVID response team for some time. A window of opportunity presented itself to examine readjusting the 2020-21 calendar, and we worked to explore those options,” said CHSAA assistant commissioner Adam Bright in a message to The Durango Herald. “At this time, as all of our schools across the state continue to adjust to new learning models, maintaining focus on that top priority is the direction our association will maintain. While not normal, the 2020-21 calendar provides for all 200,000-plus student-athletes participating at CHSAA member schools and opportunity to compete this year.
“I look forward to seeing the Demons, Wolverines, Bobcats, Panthers, Bluejays and Bears, amongst others, compete as we progress through this year.”
This is a developing story. For more information, keep following www.durangoherald.com.