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Football: Variances, social media and an email helped lead to fall season

Practices expected to begin Sept. 24

Daily Camera file photo
Shining Mountain athletic director Mike Hawkes, who is on the CHSAA Board of Directors, said on Thursday that he personally surveyed 52 athletic directors about their stance on football’s return to fall and the potential vote once variances were allowed with team game rosters.
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The Colorado High School Activities Association’s board voted unanimously to keep high school football in the spring. Eight days later, the vote went 12-3 in favor of giving school districts the option to bring it back if ready.

What … um, changed?

Well, social media got heated. Hashtags and mentions were the days’ pitchforks and torches.

Fingers were wagged at Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and CHSAA commissioner Rhonda Blanford-Green, who seemed to go back and forth through various tweets and public releases. Some players and parents even publicly protested: Neighboring states Nebraska, Utah and Wyoming are playing, the sentiment rang. Why not us?

The revival gained steam.

The day after CHSAA voted to keep football in the spring, Polis stated that he was disappointed with the decision — a 180 that left many wondering what was going on behind closed doors.

Days later, the governor and CHSAA met again. Polis, via Twitter, made clear he would agree on state variances to accommodate fall football, allowing teams to have 50 players per side instead of the state’s previous approved number of just 25 total. He also agreed to allow field hockey and sideline cheer back in the fall. On Friday night, it was revealed field hockey would stick to playing in the spring.

Over at CHSAA, there was an email sent out to survey school and district athletic directors as well as superintendents. Individual board members reportedly gathered new information of their own.

“When we voted initially, we had limited information, right?” said Shining Mountain AD Mike Hawkes, the board member representing District 6 (which includes the 5280 League, the Front Range League and the Continental League in Douglas County). “Not anybody’s fault. We were still operating under the former variances that had been put in place by the governor and his team. Those (variances) were originally 25 kids on the field, and when you take that into consideration you really just can’t play football that way.”

Issues surrounding Title IX were also at the forefront of the Sept. 8 meeting, Hawkes said. As was competitive equity, which saw some districts in the state allowing students to use weight rooms, while others not open.

“And as the week went on, things changed, right?” Hawkes said.

Variances by the governor this past week changed the script and realistically allowed for an option to bring back football, sideline cheer and field hockey. The majority of schools in the state were on board.

Hawkes, who then surveyed 52 athletic directors to see how they would want him to vote, received 36 answers back and 61 percent wanted districts to have the option to bring back the three sports. He said the survey sent out by CHSAA came back in favor of it, too.

“By and large, the results came back, ‘Vote yes. We want fall sports back’,” Hawkes said. “At the same time there were a number of districts and superintendents that did not vote on it for a myriad of reasons. But still, the numbers that came back, there was a large number of surveys that came back and they definitely pointed us in the direction of how the majority wanted us to vote now that all of this other data is out there. Really that survey went out and what it was asking was if the variances are changed – and we didn’t have the details of the variances at that point, so those were not in the survey – would you want fall sports back.”

Over a month ago, CHSAA split its sports calendar into A, B, C and D seasons as only boys tennis, boys golf, cross country and softball were deemed safe for 2020.

Colorado, though, eventually followed suit with a number of other states and athletic associations that reversed course and brought back football early.

“We put the calendar out there and by and large — the calendar is not perfect, nothing during a global pandemic is perfect, right? So, we were happy that a calendar had been created that allowed all activities and all sports to be able to run during the school year,” Hawkes said. “I think there were changes happening throughout the United States that really drove football to start bringing back fall sports. And at the time during our initial vote, there was no preponderance of medical evidence that all of a sudden said, ‘It’s safe to go play football. Let’s go’. There was nothing that came out to the public that said, ‘Everything is better’.”

The onus is now on school districts, which have until Monday at 8 a.m. to choose whether it will take part in football and sideline cheer in the fall, or if they’ll wait for spring. Most schools in the area had made their decision as of Friday.

“I think where we really went with it was with the governor’s team accepting the variances and putting out the new numbers,” Hawkes said. “I think we as a board felt better about voting yes and giving local control to schools and districts as to whether or not they think they can pull it off safely. One of the comments I received back from one of my constituents talked directly about that, that a ‘No’ vote takes it away from everybody, where there are arguably schools and districts that are ready to play and can play and can do it safely. So, a ‘Yes’ vote gives them an opportunity to do it but doesn’t force everyone to do it.”