A hopeful message to high school athletes was followed by a caution to district administrators.
Colorado High School Activities Association Commissioner Rhonda Blanford-Green issued a statement last week expressing encouragement that the 2020-21 school year will see the resumption of athletics and activities as regularly scheduled. This after CHSAA was forced to cancel the entire 2020 spring sports season as well as the state basketball tournament semifinals and championship games as the coronavirus pandemic swept the state and country.
“The CHSAA associate and assistant commissioners are proceeding with guidelines and standards for resuming fall sports on their scheduled start dates,” Blanford-Green said in the statement posted to CHSAANow.com. “The recent ‘Safer at Home’ and ‘Protect our Neighbors’ guidelines from the state have provided our staff with more flexibility to construct regular season, postseason and contingency plans for fall programs.”
After that statement was sent out, Durango School District 9-R Athletic Director Ryan Knorr said he received communication from Blanford-Green qualifying that optimism with the fact plans could change at any time depending on how the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve between now and August.
“I truly believe they are doing everything in their power to have all fall sports start,” Knorr said. “But when you watch ESPN and see all the major pro sports and all the contingency plans and how things could go on hold at the drop of a hat, it’s hard to think about. Teams and schools have to be ready to think on their toes and change plans if we try to jump into this.
“The sense from our community is that they want everything back, and that’s cool. We just have to take all the proper precautions on our end to do it right. I think the kids would have been playing since May if we just turned the other way.”
Knorr said Durango High School has entered a second phase of guidelines for in-person activities this summer. Workouts are being conducted under strict guidelines with 25 players allowed to work on an outdoor field at a time. Inside work is limited to no more than 10 athletes. Athletes must answer questions regarding the health of themselves and family members, and their temperature is taken before every practice. Knorr said all activities would be shut down if there is a confirmed positive case of COVID-19. There have been 14 new confirmed cases in la Plata County the last two days.
“I can’t tell you how nice it has been to go out and see students on the field and hear coaches coaching and giving positive feedback,” Knorr said. “I didn’t realize how much I would miss hearing those sounds. I am optimistic but still a little nervous as I see numbers jump back up around the country and here in La Plata County, but everyone anticipated that with the reopening of businesses. I’m just hoping we can stay on track and get things back but also keep everybody safe. That continues to be the priority for us.”
While Durango 9-R plans to resume in-person learning this fall, that might not be the case statewide. Blanford-Green said CHSAA is making plans around the various types of educational platforms that could be implemented this year.
“We are a statewide organization, so our task becomes more complicated when educational and health mandates vary at district levels, much less from county to county,” she said. “Although we are moving forward, we know that our plans must be flexible and subject to change to provide equitable participation opportunities across the state.
“A shutdown in one area, impacting one classification, would send our staff back to the white board. The state and county data and decisions are fluctuating, so we continue to plan for the knowns of today and the unknowns of tomorrow.”
Knorr believes outdoor sports will have a stronger chance of taking place this fall than indoor sports. The same goes for fan attendance.
“My priority will be getting immediate family members into games,” he said. “We are looking at some streaming options. There are a thousand what-ifs. Based on trends and what I’m reading, I wouldn’t be surprised if we are able to do a lot more with outdoor sports than indoor sports.”
Knorr said DHS is working to order Demons cloth facemasks so student-athletes can have a uniform face covering.
Former Durango athletic director Adam Bright, now an assistant commissioner with CHSAA who oversees football, issued a statement regarding the use of football face shields that have hit the market. The National Federation of High School Associations will not require the use of face shields inside helmets, nor will CHSAA, at this time.
“As with any new product to market, there is excitement and a rush to purchase by many,” Bright said in a statement posted to CHSAANow.com. “At this time, these items are not mandated at the national level from the NFHS, nor are they mandated at the state level by the CHSAA. Personally, with limited data as to the extent these items successfully decrease potential exposure to respiratory droplets, I would caution against a potential false sense of security these may provide.”
Bright informed Knorr there likely would be no restriction placed by CHSAA that would prevent Southwest Colorado schools from competing against teams from New Mexico or Utah. But that also will take the approval from associations in those states.
“New Mexico started in-person practice this week, so that’s a good sign,” Knorr said. “It’s a very large concern with our teams having so many games with them. Northwest New Mexico has been going through a lot more than we have here locally, but it sounds like things are on a better trend.
“We are looking at contingency plans if those games do come off the schedule. Bright said he does not foresee CHSAA putting mandates on us, but we can’t control what the NMAA does.”