Colorado high school football trending toward fall return, but coaches frustrated by lack of clarity

With the fate of a fall high school football season in Colorado trending toward a return to fall, coaches were upset with the lack of clarity Friday.

CHSAA commissioner Rhonda Blanford-Green was supposed to meet with Gov. Jared Polis’ office Friday to discuss participation variances that would allow for football and other fall sports, such as volleyball and soccer, to be restored to their traditional seasons this year.

By 6 p.m., the two sides emerged with tweets indicating those sports may be played this autumn, after all.

“We are currently working with @CHSAA to approve variances for football and field hockey, and we will work together to develop guidelines or variances for additional sports at a later date and indoor sports when they can safely be played,” a tweet from Gov. Polis’ Twitter account read.

CHSAA tweeted that it was resubmitting variances and plans to the governor’s COVID-19 Response Team to reconsider seasons for football, spirit and volleyball, and will do the same for field hockey, gymnastics, soccer and unified bowling.

No other details were made available, including potential start dates or what those seasons might look like.

Additionally, surveys went out Friday afternoon to football coaches in Cherry Creek and Jeffco school districts asking about their program’s readiness for a fall season, but CHSAA did not send the surveys. They were, according to various coaches who received them, sent from their respective district athletic director.

All the while, Gov. Polis proclaimed again Friday that there’s “a window still open for the additional fall sports” and that his office is “doing everything we can to facilitate” a fall football season.

One local Class 5A coach called the whole situation “embarrassing for Colorado.” Another labeled it a bungling of “extraordinary proportions.”

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, CHSAA originally pushed the sport to spring on Aug. 4, only to have Polis declare on Tuesday that the state wanted to work with the association to make a fall football season happen. But on Tuesday evening, the CHSAA Board of Directors unanimously voted to not reconsider any adjustment to the 2020-21 sports calendar, thus keeping football in the spring. One major factor in that decision was directly prior to the vote, Blanford-Green was told Gov. Polis wasn’t willing to increase the 25-person variance (or 12.5 people per sideline) necessary for a feasible football season.

The next day, Gov. Polis contradicted that, tweeting that he “encouraged (CHSAA) to add fall football season, of course (with a) variance for up to 50 players on each team on sidelines and everything else necessary for safe play.”

Whatever the case, local coaches are fed up.

“I find it hard to believe that the night before (Gov. Polis said the variance was 50), the board didn’t know that,” Mullen coach Jeremy Bennett said. “Either the board isn’t telling 100 percent the truth, or the Governor’s not, or more importantly — no one is communicating.”

With CHSAA’s latest announcement about Blanford-Green’s meeting with the governor’s office on Friday, Bennett said the association “put the carrot back on the string and hung it out the window again.”

“Just like we build trust and relationships with our players, there’s no trust right now between players (and CHSAA’s decisions),” Bennett said. “My kids are hurting. You build these kids’ hopes up, and then it’s up to us to pick up the pieces again when the rug gets pulled out from under them… That’s not fair to do to kids.”

Friday also featured three in-person protests put on by Let Colorado Play, and some athletes are considering filing lawsuits against CHSAA and Gov. Polis.

Amid all the uncertainty, Chatfield coach Bret McGatlin is trying to make sure his players “find something positive in all of this,” whether the result of the chaos is a shortened spring season or perhaps an even shorter fall one.

“That’s all I can do at this point — I have to make sure I’m a role model for how I want them to respond to adversity in their own lives,” McGatlin said. “The second us coaches get down, that’s bad news for the kids. They’re dealing with enough and we have to be there to pick them up.”

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