Football was on the mind of Colorado Gov. Jared Polis during his press conference Tuesday in Denver.
The Denver Broncos are slated to play the season opener next week on Monday Night Football against the Tennessee Titans. Meanwhile, college and high school football around the state are on pause because of the COVID-19 pandemic with hopes of playing in the spring.
But, for high school football, teams might return to competition much sooner. Polis said Tuesday he would work with the Colorado High School Activities Association to allow high school football to resume this fall.
“We want to work with (CHSAA),” Polis said. “If their board moves forward and wants to propose a fall season for CHSAA football, we would be thrilled to work with them to make that happen for the districts that are ready to go. I think there’s some opportunity to have a fall season for those who are ready.”
That news came a month after CHSAA, after it had submitted plans to the governor’s office in hopes of approval regarding the resumption of fall sports, announced high school football would be moved to the spring. Only cross-country, boys golf, boys tennis and softball gained initial approval to play condensed fall seasons.
So, CHSAA broke up the school year into four athletic seasons instead of the traditional three of fall, winter and spring. Approved fall sports fell into Season A. Season B is made up of basketball and wrestling and was not to begin until Jan. 4. Football fell into Season C, Practices were slated to begin Feb. 22 with games to begin March 4. Then, baseball and other traditional fall sports were moved to Season D with a schedule that would stretch until the end of June for some activities. That was so football and baseball would not conflict with each other.
After months of backlash from parents, players and coaches around the state, it now appears likely CHSAA and Polis will come to an agreement this week to start fall football later this month.
Still, Polis said some areas of the state will not be ready to play this fall, especially those that have not returned to on-campus learning and areas where local health guidelines may be more strict than those in place at the state level.
“Clearly, returning to in-classroom instruction should be the priority,” Polis said. “Districts that aren’t even back in the classroom and aren’t running buses, they want to provide the football experience, but many of them won’t be ready until Season C in the spring.
“If there are schools and districts that are ready to move forward with fall football and can implement that quickly, we want to encourage CHSAA to allow for that as long as they are running an analogous process in the C season for districts and teams that are not ready to compete in the A season.”
The news Tuesday continued to take a toll on the emotions of players. Some have moved to states that had committed to fall football for recruiting purposes. Durango High School quarterback Jordan Woolverton was among those who contemplated a move elsewhere. Ultimately, he decided to finish high school where he began, though he knew a spring season would hurt his chances at getting the Division I scholarship offer he desires.
“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,” Woolverton said. “You love playing the game and miss it so much all the time. I’m definitely very happy the governor and CHSAA are reconsidering right now. Everyone at school today was very excited to, hopefully, get out this fall. We are making sure we’re prepared and ready to play.
“We’ve worked our whole lives for this, us seniors, especially. We never thought anything like this could happen or take our season away. But we’ve worked too hard to this point to have it taken away from us now. Everyone wants to play so bad, and we want to play for Durango again. Let us play.”
Last week, Michigan became the latest state to reverse course and approve football to begin in the fall. Colorado’s bordering states of Nebraska, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming are among the 18 states that have moved forward with fall seasons as scheduled. Colorado was one of 15 states to move football to the spring along with neighboring state New Mexico.
Now, 40 states plan to play this fall with seven having already started.
With new coronavirus cases declining across the state and with nearly 14,000 signatures on a Change.org petition to begin fall football, conversations are underway in Colorado to join the majority across the U.S.
“In recent weeks, we have seen reconsideration at the Association, school district and conference level regarding the resuming fall sports, especially football,” CHSAA Commissioner Rhonda Blanford-Green said in a statement posted to CHSAANow.com on Monday night. “We also hear those who are advocating for a reconsideration of the 2020-21 sport calendar. We continue to work collaboratively with our state, health and educational officials. We’re monitoring information from other states to see if it’s applicable to reconsiderations in Colorado.
“Over the course of the past week, this has prompted conversations at the state level to see if some outdoor fall sports could resume under the state safety guidelines, including variances that would be needed to make this happen. We appreciate their willingness to keep the dialogue open. Our office will continue to provide further updates if any changes occur with the 2020-21 activities calendar.”
Durango School District 9-R Athletic Director Ryan Knorr had to rework the Demons’ schedule. The season was condensed from 10 games down to seven when it was moved to the spring, and his understanding is that a fall season would remain at seven games. Though DHS did not reschedule any of the three New Mexico opponents originally on its schedule, some schools did keep New Mexico games on a spring schedule and could be forced to adjust.
Knorr’s biggest concern is travel. Overnight trips are currently not permitted by Durango 9-R, and it takes time to book charter buses that also have to follow Colorado Department of Transportation rules regarding driving time.
Still, Knorr said he would do whatever it takes to make a fall season happen if CHSAA moves forward.
“The logistics of getting ready and organized on a shortened calendar is a lot,” Knorr said. “Hiring was frozen, but we have a handful of assistant coaches we need to hire for football, and that’s a process at any school. It puts a lot of pressure on administrators and kids, but I would want to do everything in our power to make it happen.”
Teams have continued to practice a few times a week after school as a way to keep players engaged. The big concern for small schools is getting players ready to go, as many small schools have boys play offense, defense and special teams.
“We’ve had half of the team one time a week, but we are working on expanding to do more than that and get morning weight lifting,” Bayfield High School head coach Gary Heide said. “The biggest concern for me right now would be conditioning and being able to play a football game and organize all three phases to the extend we can do well. We need time to get in physical condition and organized on the field.”
A senior-led Durango High School team is ready to play right away if given approval.
“We are Week 1 ready,” DHS head coach David Vogt said. “We’ve been getting together twice a week working on skills stuff in our pods and following all the precautions. We are practicing like we are ready to play games and feel like we are at a level where we could play a really good game.”
Boys soccer also was moved from fall to the spring, as was volleyball. There has been no indication that a reconsideration of volleyball has taken place.
Under current COVID-19 guidelines from the state, only 25 people, including coaches, players, officials and game workers, can participate in an activity on the same field at one time. Only 10 can gather for indoor sports. Those restrictions would have to be changed to allow for more participation to accommodate the resumption of previously postponed fall sports.
It appears Polis is moving toward easing those restrictions. Tuesday, he announced 5,700 fans will be able to attend Denver Broncos home games beginning Week 3 when Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers visit Sept. 27 at Empower Field at Mile High. While that is considerably less than the stadium’s 76,125 capacity, it is a strong step toward allowing mass group gatherings during a time of a global pandemic. Polis hinted that more fans may be allowed at Broncos games in following weeks.
It is also a strong indicator that parents and students may be allowed to attend high school football games when they do resume play.
“We love playing for our fans and to represent Durango,” Woolverton said. “We’d love nothing more for those fans, my family and friends, to be there. At the same time, we just want to play football. If it is that we can’t have fans there, it won’t be a big deal. We know they’ll be listening.”
CHSAA assistant commissioner Adam Bright, who oversees football, said a more clear picture for football could be determined in the next day.
“We’ve been looking for some good news and hope for a long time about anything in regard to the COVID restrictions,” Heide said. “We know things could change at any time. Today was some good news, and I am happy for it and hope it continues on. We are all in this together. We’ve been keeping an optimistic attitude, and it sure would be great to play some football.”