High school football teams in Colorado have been given permission to play this fall during the COVID-19 pandemic. Then, the schools only had to decide if they wanted to.
That was an easy decision amongst the majority of coaches and players, but school districts and local health agencies still had plenty to discuss before allowing players to return to practice Sept. 24 with games to begin Oct. 8.
Locally, Durango, Bayfield, Ignacio, Dolores and the 8-man teams of Dove Creek and Mancos have decided intent to play this fall.
Montezuma-Cortez announced Monday that it would play in the spring season.
“In making this decision, we carefully considered the impacts of this decision on the overall education of our students; health and safety of students and players,” Montezuma-Cortez Principal Eric Chandler said Monday in an email.
Chandler added that spirit and band teams, which typically perform at football games, also would move to spring.
The district’s decision was based in part on “the overall education of our students” and state health guidance, which limits the number of spectators and band and spirit students to 175 per game, Chandler said.
Montezuma-Cortez’s rival in the 2A classification, Bayfield, will play in fall.
“There is some risk here that it could cross cohorts, and that there is some jeopardy on the education side of our house, but our safety measures are working,” said Bayfield School District Superintendent Dr. K. Kevin Aten.
“We feel like, at this time, we could go ahead with the playing of football in the A season. It’s hard to look into a crystal ball and know if spring will be better. ... From a football participation standpoint, the structure of the fall is going to be better than to have stressed out athletes playing in back to back to back seasons that are really compacted in the spring. If they can participate in football now, it will allow more athletes to participate in other sports later.”
Conversations began through school districts around Colorado on Thursday morning. Wednesday night, the Colorado High School Activities Association was given approval from Gov. Jared Polis on variances to public health guidelines to allow football, women’s field hockey and spirit teams to begin fall seasons. Football had been suspended until the spring in a decision made Aug. 4 by CHSAA after it was not given those same variances from the governor’s office and the COVID-19 response team. Only cross-country, boys golf and tennis and softball and previously been approved for fall play.
The key variance will allow teams to have 50 players and coaches per roster for a max of 100 players and coaches on the field. Previous guidelines limited athletic activities to only 25 players on a field at a time.
“If the CHSAA board decides to add these sports to their fall calendars, it will be up to local school districts, administrators and parents to choose what is right for their communities,” Polis said in a news release.
The CHSAA Board of Directors approved a fall football season in a 12-3 vote late Wednesday night. That came a week after the board voted unanimously to keep football in the spring during a week of back-and-forth between CHSAA and the governor’s office that led to student-led protests across the state.
After Wednesday’s reversal from last week’s decision making, Polis and CHSAA said each individual school district will have the option of whether or not to participate in the fall or the spring and that both seasons will be offered. However, schools may only participate in one of those seasons.
There was also a definitive answer for Mancos on Thursday, as all of the six teams in the 8-man Mountain League voted to play in the fall.
“There have been a lot of ups and downs the last few weeks. What I’m finding is that the kids adjust to all the ups and downs a lot easier than the adults do,” said Mancos head football coach Josh Gardner. “The kids are extremely excited to play this fall. There is a lot to consider, but I think from the get-go our team and a lot of people in our league would prefer the fall season, so it didn’t seem like too hard of a decision to choose the fall. That is the trend for 8-man football across the state.”
Some larger schools in Colorado Springs, such as Harrison and Sierra, which play in the same Class 3A league as Durango High School, have already declared they will play in the spring, though Mitchell in Colorado Springs, which is also in Durango’s league, has opted to play in the fall.
Denver Public Schools have indicated they prefer the spring season.
But most rural schools are already moving to play in the fall. That includes Bayfield High School in Class 2A. Ignacio in Class 1A and Mancos in 8-man. Bayfield and Ignacio had already approved fall football, and Durango awaited to make a decision after meeting with SJBPH, which also oversees Bayfield and Ignacio.
Last week, Montezuma-Cortez head coach Ivan Mack said he leaned toward a spring season.
“I could go either way. But I’m probably leaning more toward the spring based on what we had planned for,” he said. “We do it if they tell us to do it. But, at this point, the kids are focused on the way it was set up in the spring after that decision was made.”
Teams that play in the fall will get six regular-season games. For classifications 2A and smaller, that is three less than normal. It is four fewer for schools in Classes 3A-5A. The state playoffs will have eight-team brackets instead of 16. Teams that do not qualify for the state tournament can play an additional seventh game the week of Thanksgiving to add an extra game. The structure for the season will be the same in the spring as it is in the fall.
If 50% of teams in a certain league declare for the spring, the rest of the teams in that league that choose a fall season will play in redrawn leagues with games that make sense geographically to aid with travel.
There will be state champions crowned in the fall and spring seasons. Fall state championships will be contest Dec. 5 and semifinals to be played Nov. 28. Spring games will begin March 11, and state championships will be contested May 8.
Games will look a little different. Players and coaches must keep 3-6 feet of distance on the sidelines when not participating. They also must wear masks. Players will be able to spread out further down sidelines to accommodate distancing. There will also be a cap on no more than four team managers and trainers on each sideline.
Aten, who coordinates football officials in Southwest Colorado, said he is worried if there will be enough officials ready to go for the start of games the first week of October.