The glimmer of hope for a spring sports season has faded away in Colorado. It could not survive the coronavirus waiting game.
After three previous suspensions of all activities, the Colorado High School Activities Association announced Tuesday morning the cancellation of the 2020 spring sports season.
The action aligns with an announcement from Gov. Jared Polis on Monday that schools would remain closed for the rest of the school year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We all knew it was coming. It was inevitable based on the conversations we were having,” said Durango School District 9-R Athletic Director Ryan Knorr. “I understand we were waiting to hear from Polis, but I was shocked we waited so long or that he waited to make the final word on in-person education for the remainder of the school year. Everybody knew it was coming. Still, to type it out in an email to inform the coaches, it hit me on another level I wasn’t prepared for. It’s just disappointing.”
CHSAA commissioner Rhonda Blanford-Green had maintained that the resumption of spring sports would be dependent on students being able to return to classrooms. Many school districts around the state had already make the decision to complete the school year online only before Polis made the announcement Monday.
“We have proceeded with cautious optimism, holding on to a thread of hope that the spring season would be able to realistically resume, knowing that the health and safety of our sports communities would dictate our course of action,” Blanford-Green said in a news release. “It was our hope to be able to create the memories because we understood what it meant to our high school communities – especially seniors – statewide.
“Around the nation, more than 30 other state associations have made the difficult decision to cancel their spring season. We hoped that Colorado medical and health data would provide reassurances that we could go in a different direction. Unfortunately, that will not be the case. The spring 2020 season is canceled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic which is affecting communities across the world.”
The cancellation applies to all school activities and clubs.
After the Polis announcement Monday evening, Blanford-Green said a meeting was conducted with the sports medicine advisory committee to discuss if there was a responsible way to conduct activities.
“The group came to a consensus, and stated: ‘It would be impractical and irresponsible for (CHSAA) to move forward with a spring season in the next weeks or even the summer months,’” Blanford-Green said. “It is with this information – the inability to ensure operations under the protective guidelines, statewide accountability and public safety through all high school events – that (CHSAA) has canceled all performances, festivals, competitions, regular season and culminating CHSAA-sanctioned spring activities and athletics for the remainder of the 2020 season, ending on June 1.”
When the outbreak first hit the U.S. and Colorado, CHSAA announced March 12 it would suspend spring sports until April 6, and it made the tough decision to cancel the state basketball tournaments with only two days left to play to decide champions.
By March 17, CHSAA already had to push back the spring sports suspension to April 18. When the statewide stay-at-home order was extended further, CHSAA stretched the suspension to April 30 with the hope of being able to conduct some form of season in May and early June.
As time went on, it became clear it would not be safe to resume competition this spring and still adhere to social distancing mandates.
“As hard as it was for me to communicate and wrap my head around it, meeting with teachers this morning and hearing them reflect on knowing they can’t see their classes again, their emotions struck me,” Knorr said. “I work with kids, but not as intimately as teachers in classrooms every day. What teachers and coaches are experiencing, it’s on another level. Hearing their response to not having another chance this year, it’s powerful, and every teacher and educator is experiencing that today.”
Many coaches have sent workouts to athletes to conduct during the current stay-at-home order and will continue to do so through mid May. One of those coaches is Durango High School track and field coach Johnny Bertrand, who wrote a heartfelt email to athletes and their parents Tuesday morning.
“I want you to know that it is OK to feel disappointed or upset; you had something you loved taken away from you and that is never easy,” Bertrand said. “Sports teach us to overcome and to be resilient. This is a great opportunity to look at how we can grow instead of dwelling on how we’ve been defeated. We can use this as an opportunity to work on overcoming disappointment and adversity.
“Keep working, keep grinding, get faster, get stronger – there is never an excuse to not workout and get better. Let’s do what sports have always been teaching us. When we get knocked down, we get back up and keep fighting.”
In La Plata County, Durango High girls tennis completed one weekend of action. The only other team to play a spring game was Durango High School baseball, which opened the Piedra Vista tournament at Ricketts Park in Farmington on March 12 before the spring sports suspension was announced. Instead of playing a doubleheader, DHS played only the one game.
It went from season opener to season finale in a flash.
“It’s a very hard pill to swallow,” said DHS junior Gage Mestas, who hoped a big spring season would help his college recruiting process. “Seeing spring sports canceled and being told by coach that summer ball is in the air, as well, it really hurts, and I know it hurts more for our seniors going through this. It’s something else. You just gotta try to train yourself to become motivated and find a proper mindset.”
Mestas said he had focused on staying sharp during the last month with the hope the Demons would get another chance on the baseball diamond this year. His family created a weight room, he set up a makeshift batting cage in his yard, and he was going to off-campus fields to throw with his older brother, Gavin, on a daily basis.
“I’ve tried to stay polished, but it’s hard staying motivated,” he said. “Doing it on your own with no coaching, nobody there to tell you how to do it or when to do it, it’s tough.
“This year, we had so much talent, and we were all excited with coach (Rob) Coddington as our head coach this year. To have it taken away so quick and sudden, it’s hard for everyone. I’m fortunate as a junior to have another year.”
Blanford-Green said decisions surrounding coach and athlete contact, school facilities usage and workouts would be made at the local level by school districts and the rules applied to their respective communities.
Now, all focus will go into the fall 2020 season and the hope school sports can resume.
“Our hats are off to the many seniors that have shown maturity and resolve as their culminating year of high school has been impacted beyond activities and athletics due to this worldwide COVID-19 pandemic The Class of 2020 will not be forgotten,” Blanford-Green said. “Our fingers are now crossed and our hopes are that the Association will be able to conduct a fall season with some level of normalcy. Our office will be entirely focused on contingency plans for the 2020 fall season and beyond, should they be needed.”