Q&A: Commissioner Rhonda Blanford-Green on high school activities, sports and COVID-19

All-School Summit Rhonda Blanford-Green

(Ryan Casey/CHSAANow.com)

As we navigate a "new normal" in the midst of COVID-19, we caught up with commissioner Rhonda Blanford-Green to get her thoughts on the adjustments to the spring schedule and the impact the pandemic is having on communities.

Currently, the spring sports season is suspended until April 18, but recent updates from the federal government have extended social distancing guidelines to April 30, so the suspension date is likely to be extended by Blanford-Green this week.

Question: The public has a tendency to focus on sports, but the last A in CHSAA stands for "Activities." How has the spring suspension impacted activities?

Blanford-Green: I appreciate the opportunity to speak to how the moratorium has impacted our activities programs. The month of April is a celebration in our office in which we take a step back from athletics and celebrate our music participants. Our student participant numbers in music are the highest of any activity or sport we have. Last year, there were more than 41,000 music participants. For reference, our next-highest participation is in football, which has a little more than 16,500 participants.

Because of that, the month of April has always been an opportunity for the CHSAA staff to travel state-wide to be a part of these events. In the recent years, schools hosting music competitions has increased two-fold. So the decision to cancel those events to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 was among the most difficult of all the decisions made to date.

Q: What has gone into the decision-making in terms of suspending the season, or cancelling activities?

Blanford-Green: Although the final decisions have been communicated to our school communities and the public directly from me, I have had the opportunity to be surrounded by an amazing CHSAA staff, the Board of Directors, state and educational leaders, as well as my 50 colleagues across the nation that are facing the same decisions and challenges as we are in Colorado.

It's important for anyone making these decisions to remember that no matter how emotionally tied we are to what the negative impacts will be, we have to be cognizant of the decisions being made above us which may dictate our next steps.

Q: You spoke about emotions, and talk often about how your decisions are being made for the safety and well-being of our students. Can you dig deeper into that?

Blanford-Green: Our CHSAA staff are former athletes. We're coaches. We're officials. We're prep media writers. We're volunteers. And even parents of former senior athletes. We know the impact of activities and athletics within our communities.

Many people are invested in creating this positive high school experience that create memories for a lifetime. We don't take these decisions lightly, and they do resonate from our own experiences, but we do have the responsibility to follow the guidance and mandates from our state and educational leaders, aside from our personal connections.

Q: During this time, has CHSAA encouraged connection with students and coaches?

Blanford-Green: Yes! From my first communication with schools, we have encouraged voluntary virtual connection — whether that's just connecting with a kid, or uploading a work out. We tried to discourage those being solely about athletics, but we know that for some students that connection would maybe include a workout or a drill, or something of that nature. Even if it's a teammate-to-teammate, or coach-to-athlete, we encourage virtual contact. What we have said is no physical contact, and that is to help mitigate the spread of the virus.

All of our data has shown us that kids in crisis often times connect to their coach. And we wanted to maintain, even in the social distancing mandates, that our coaches could connect and communicate with their athletes, but especially those who are fragile without the additional of a pandemic.

Q: If you had one statement that you would want others to hear from you, what would that be?

Blanford-Green: We must put into perspective that this is a world-wide, national and state health crisis. It's OK to feel the disappointment and levels of anxiety as we navigate this new normal. But I truly believe that we will come to appreciate many of the things that we have taken for granted.