CHSAA's foundation was built on the age rule

Question: Why does CHSAA have an age rule?

In May 1921, a group of principals and superintendents gathered to create the organization that would evolve into the current 343-member Colorado High School Activities Association we have today. Why?

Talks had been taking place long before that meeting. After all, games were being played every week — even as World War I raged. While limited information exists on injuries during that time, competitive athletics has always provided a risk of serious injury, especially football. And safety and fair play were a top priority then, as today.

The country was just three years away from the end of the war. It was seeing hundreds of thousands of soldiers on their way home and returning to their previous lives, as well as the emigration of hundreds of thousands Europeans fleeing countries ravaged by the war. For many, that meant returning to (or starting) high school. And, that’s where the story of the Colorado High School Athletic Conference begins.

There are documented reports that upon their return, many of these men took up the sports they played before heading off to war. Schools started to see men as old as 22 and 23 playing football against those just starting high school, some as young as 14. It didn’t take long for fears of safety and fair play to arise.

So, schools began the discussion of creating a fair and safe playing field. And the organization started with age as one of its first rules.

The rule adopted in 1921 simply stated that a student shall not participate in athletics after having reached his 21st birthday, but he could complete the current season he was participating in. That rule remained that way until 1925, when the rule evolved to ineligibility “upon arriving at his 21st birthday.” Fifteen years later, that was changed to a student’s 20th birthday.

CHSAA’s current age of 19 was first adopted in 1950. That change meant a student could not participate in football if he turned 19 before August 25, or basketball, wrestling and swimming if he was 19 before December 1, or baseball, track, tennis and golf if his birthday was before March 1.

A modification to the previous rule was passed in 1958 where students who turned 19 prior to August 25 were prohibited from participation in any sport. In 1975, the Association changed the birthdate to August 1.

CHSAA’s age rule had remained consistent since then, but the ability to seek a waiver of the rule was added in 1991, which allowed schools to request a year if that student met specified educational or physical criteria. Initially, students could not be granted a waiver to play football, ice hockey and wrestling, but that limitation was removed in 1994.

In 1996, at a special meeting of the Board of Control at Aurora Central High School, and in response to a case where a 20-year-old Down’s Syndrome student had been denied a waiver to play, the CHSAA legislative body changed the age rule to give the Commissioner authority to allow for a variance of the rule in limited cases where the safety of the participant and other participants was not compromised and that such participation would have no bearing on the outcome of contests.

The final facelift came in 2005 when the CHSAA age rule was rewritten to eliminate the by-law from the waiver process and allow for a variance of the rule based on meeting the criteria for an exception. If the athlete meets the narrow criteria for an exception, the exception will then be either approved or rejected without appeal. The CHSAA Age Rule (1760) can be found on page 54 of the current Handbook.

In all, the rule has changed 13 times in 93 years, but the heart of the rule remains safety and fair play for its student participants.