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Colorado high school football can be played this fall in districts that are ready, Gov. Jared Polis says

CHSAA officially moved the sport to spring on Aug. 4 due to coronavirus concerns

The Grandview Wolves take to the field prior to playing against the Eaglecrest Raptors at Legacy Stadium on Oct. 3, 2019 in Aurora.
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There may be Friday night lights in Colorado this fall after all.

Gov. Jared Polis announced Tuesday that the state is giving the green light to reconsider moving high school football back to its traditional season, after the sport was officially pushed to spring Aug. 4 due to coronavirus concerns.

“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.”

Football was initially pushed to the spring as part of CHSAA’s return-to-play plan for the 2020-21 school year that includes four seasons and condensed schedules. But the state’s declining coronavirus cases since late July — coupled with an insistent base of coaches, players and parents who fought for football to be played — led to reconsidering the decision.

Prior to Tuesday, Colorado was one of 18 state associations (including Washington D.C.) that either pushed football to the spring or had not yet determined a schedule. Grassroots momentum to have the football season restored this fall has been fueled by local coaches on Twitter, and a Change.org petition to “Let Them Play” had more than 13,700 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon.

“It was hard to tell my players the rationale for the majority of other states playing and us not, and while I’m also coaching my 10-year-old in tackle football right now as well,” Ponderosa coach Jaron Cohen said. “If the majority of states are playing this fall, and pretty much all the states around us are playing — and we have better (coronavirus) numbers lately, and club and youth sports are going on — why is high school football the one group being penalized? That just didn’t sit right with me.”

Polis indicated that if CHSAA does elect to move forward with re-instating the fall football season, schools would still have the option of having their football team play in the spring in “Season C”, which calls for games to begin March 4. While several Denver-area school districts are in a hybrid learning model, Denver Public Schools and Aurora Public Schools are still fully remote.

“Clearly returning to in-classroom instruction should be the priority,” Polis said. “For districts that aren’t even back in the classroom, and they’re not running buses, they want to provide that football experience but many of them won’t be ready (to do so) until ‘Season C’ in the spring.”

But the notion of two football seasons in one academic year poses a problem, Cohen said, who called it a “logistical nightmare.” And as for schools mixing remote learning with athletics, DPS and APS have been engaging in fall sports such as cross country and golf.

“Two seasons would create a lot of issues with scheduling because you’re going to have most of the state wanting to play in the fall,” Cohen said.

While Cohen is “cautiously optimistic” about the prospect of playing, Englewood coach Mike Campbell fears “this seems like a too-little, too-late kind of a thing.”

“I wasn’t in favor of the decision that was made in early August, but at the same time, you kind of make your bed and you lay in it,” Campbell added. “It just seems hard to put it all together now; (the timing) has created a lot of problems with it. And if we do commit to this and then there’s a problem (with COVID-19), does that mean the kids lose the season like the basketball championships were lost, and the spring season was lost?”

Without testing, Campbell maintained the onus to keep schools and teams healthy is “on the coaches, the players and the players’ families.”

Ponderosa quarterback Jack Hanenburg echoed that sentiment. Hanenburg has plenty to play for as well, as Ponderosa is a Class 4A state title contender and the quarterback has only one Division II scholarship offer so far.

“We have to trust the health officials, trust our coaches, trust the people around you,” Hanenburg said. “As players, we’ve been policing each other of not hanging out in big groups all the time. I believe in our team that we can really police each other — we have a lot of guys who want to play college sports, and beyond that, none of us want to have this experience taken away from us.”

On that note, Dakota Ridge coach Ron Woitalewicz said a return to play this fall is less about recruiting and more about the experience, and the sense of community, that high school football brings student-athletes and their families — even with the risk of coronavirus.

“Anybody who thinks that the coaches are pushing this for the coaches is kind of misinformed or doesn’t quite get it,” Woitalewicz said. “We are pushing like this because we’re around our kids, and we see the daily status of their mental health, and how they’re feeling like lost — it’s just kind of a weird situation for our (student-athletes).”

If football does return, Woitalewicz estimates that Sept. 21 could be a feasible re-start date for practices, with a seven-game schedule starting the weekend of Oct. 1.

“I think Jeffco’s ready — we brought kids back, we’re hybrid, we’ve had fall sports like softball and tennis going on with no issues,” Woitalewicz said. “But with DPS, where they’re 100 percent remote, how do you justify not bringing kids back to school, but bringing them back to play football?”

On Monday evening, CHSAA commissioner Rhonda Blanford-Green released a statement noting that the association is continuing 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.”