Winter sports won’t look the same this season for high school athletes, who will have to make certain concessions to play.
But, they have the chance to play.
The Colorado High School Activities Association had a series of webinars this week with coaches and athletic directors to explain and answer questions about the regulations put in place to allow indoor sports to be contested.
“It’s going to be doable, it’s just going to look different,” Paul Cain, the School District 51 athletic director, said Wednesday. “We’ll find a way to make it work, it’s just a matter of getting creative and working within our restrictions and guidelines.”
Practice for basketball, wrestling and girls swimming, along with competitive spirit and ice hockey, begins Jan. 18, with competition starting Jan. 25.
A significant change, especially on the Western Slope, is with wrestling, which is not allowed to have regular-season tournaments. That means a one-year suspension of the Warrior Classic. When a delay in the start of Season B was announced, Central wrestling coach Clint Trujillo had an idea that would be the case, and said although it would be disappointing to lose the premier early season tournament, he was willing to give it up for a year if it meant wrestlers still had a chance to compete.
The variances were designed under Level Red on the state’s COVID-19 dial. Many counties, including Mesa County, have been placed in Level Orange, with slightly looser guidelines for indoor events, so some regulations could change.
Local health departments will determine attendance. Cain said that hasn’t been finalized for District 51 games, but events at all four high schools will be live streamed via the National Federation of High Schools network.
Cain did get clarification from the Mesa County Public Health Department that each gym in a building counts separately, so schools that have two gymnasiums can run events in each at the same time.
One of the consistent messages for each sport is limiting the amount of people in the gym, encouraging additional ventilation and mandating mask use and sanitization. Bench areas will be rearranged to promote social distancing and must have hand sanitizer available. Schools are encouraged to limit travel and overnight trips. No scrimmages are allowed.
Locker rooms can be used as changing areas as long as they’re large enough to allow for social distancing.
Gyms will be thoroughly cleaned between each game or wrestling dual, including cleaning the floor or mat and disinfecting team areas. CHSAA officials expect that process to take up to 30-45 minutes, depending on the size of the gym and the process schools use.
Basketball players must wear a mask during competition; wrestlers, swimmers and divers will remove them during competition, but must put them back on as soon as their match or race ends. All coaches, officials and event personnel must wear masks at all times.
The differences in mask protocol has raised some questions, but in the case of wrestling, it’s a safety issue, with masks possibly slipping around an athlete’s neck or getting caught on the opponent’s hand. The fact that it’s a one-on-one competition allows for easier contact tracing should an athlete become ill.
The CDPHE cited the level of testing done at the college and professional level that has allowed those teams to play without masks as part of the reasoning for requiring masks on the basketball court.
Cain said he and the building athletic directors are reworking schedules this week — the entire wrestling schedule is being redrawn, and Fruita Monument, a Class 5A school, has some open dates in basketball because of travel issues. He’s also working to find a practice venue for Grand Junction’s swim team.
CHSAA Assistant Commissioner Bert Borgmann, who conducted the basketball webinar, stressed to coaches that this is a one-year plan, urging them to adapt.
Cain, a standout high school and college basketball player, agreed with that line of thinking.
“It’s not ideal. It’s not something that a lot of our coaches are in favor of, but if you want to play...” Cain said.
“I’ll be honest, if I was a high school kid, would I want to play in a mask? No. Would I? Yes. I would absolutely do whatever I had to do to get on that court.”