Blanford-Green: Athletics and activities are back! Time to celebrate

State wrestling Rhonda Blanford-Green

(Ryan Casey/CHSAANow.com)

We celebrated this week when boys golf started not only practice on Monday, but competition on Thursday. It marked the start of returning to Colorado high school athletics and activities for the 2020-2021 school year.

Many have said that CHSAA is in a no-win situation following the release of the 2020-21 activities calendar. I strongly disagree. We were in a no-win situation when I had to deliver the news that our 2020 basketball championships were being cancelled. We were in a no-win situation when, without a voice in the decision, I had to deliver the news that athletics and activities would be cancelled this past spring.

For the past three months, we have had a voice at the table. We advocated and received approval, with exceptions, to move forward. Is it ideal? No. But the approval given to us by our state, health and educational officials positioned 29 education-based and interscholastic sports for a better chance to start, conduct a season, advance to the postseason, and end with a culminating event.

I have said often since March, and I reiterate again in this update, the safety of all parties involved with the high school experience will always take precedence over a game, scholarship, club season or personal choices.

The social, emotional, mental health, well-being and belonging to something bigger than individualism isn't defined by what season students play in.

My only priority as the Commissioner in the past 148 days was to get our students back to the court, back to the field, back in the pools, back on the stages — by any means necessary.

The CHSAA doesn’t get to act as a rogue organization. Resuming athletics and activities required answering and demonstrating assured safety measures to many different entities — including state, health, educational decision makers.

We are not recreational sports, youth sports, or club sports.

Participation in locally-controlled practices and outside events this summer led to an increase in district and team shutdowns across the state of Colorado. They didn't all go "just fine," as some on social media insist. Statewide county health departments documented statewide instances of positive cases and social spread amongst the population we serve.

High school events, with one positive case, have the potential to shut down classrooms. In rural areas, a positive case has the potential, even for 14 days, to shut down a K-12 district.

Contact sports, by all health metrics, pose a risk challenge to contact tracing, isolation, and mitigating the potential spread.

This is not about opinions from epidemiologists, political affiliations, or narratives. This is a fact. This isn't about low risk populations or student deaths. It is about negatively impacting the educational institutions we serve.

Sports and activities are not the purpose of our schools. Sports and activities are an extension of our schools.

I don't expect everyone to read this update from a bigger lens outside their own opinion, and consider all the data points and information. Nor is that an expectation because that is my job.

The priority of the Response team were to resume sports and activities, provide equitable high school opportunities for all students across the state, and support the many challenges Colorado superintendents and educational leaders are facing to "Return to Learn." This was supported 100% by our office.

We are a statewide educational-based association with 363 public, private, and charter voluntary members, serving 178 school districts. We answer to state, health, educational agencies, and our members schools.

The seasons will be conducted as released and approved. There are no negotiations nor comprises on student safety with the many unknowns surrounding COVID-19. We will err on the side of safety and risk minimization. No waiver or declaration of our rights will change the decision.

Participation in co-curricular activities is a privilege afforded to us as an extension of the academic environment.

It is important to note that green-lighting five different seasons and championships based upon differences in regional COVID-19 rates is an unreasonable ask when alternative and creative opportunities can be met at the local level to support student engagement and the well-being of our students.

The Association will conduct one competitive season for each of the 29 athletic and activity events as approved by the state's COVID Response Team. 

Threats to move, protest, boycott, petitions, letters to the Governor, and so on, are all within our given rights. We recently approved some temporary safeguards for CHSAA student-athletes that will ensure that our students won't be displaced by transfers coming in or returning back after playing another state for athletic purposes. We will do everything possible to uphold the integrity and credibility of education-based participation.

The Governor's COVID Response Team has approved the seasons for the 2020-2021 competitive season. Our Association has accepted their decision and will work to make it happen, because at the end of the day it is about providing opportunities for Colorado high students. It is about providing social interaction opportunities whether in a practice or a competitive setting.

We have successfully accomplished getting our students and coaches back on the court and field. Our resumption to conduct 29 activities is outlined for 2020-2021.

The Association is excited to be given the opportunity to reconnect our students when they need it, now more than ever in their world of uncertainty.

148 days ago, I couldn't deliver a message of "hope." So I stand today on my introduction: This is a time of Celebration! Colorado athletics and activities are back!