PREP BASKETBALL

The basketball hits the backboard in the fourth quarter. The TCA Titans defeated the Sand Creek Scorpions 81-53 in girls' basketball on Wednesday, February 10, 2021 at Sand Creek High School. Photo by Isaiah J. Downing

AURORA — When the adults in charge start putting kids first again, things might get better.

In too many places that hasn’t happened yet. 

The latest example was the cancellation of the A-Town All-Stars game, a fantastic showcase put on by The Sentinel newspaper. It brings together the top basketball players here in Aurora, boys and girls, for one final night of ball.

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This is the A-Town’s sixth year. It was supposed to be, anyway, until Cherry Creek schools opted to cancel the game on Monday due to a threat of violence. Sounds like a safe move, right?

“It was a mistake,” said Jason McBride, a longtime youth violence prevention specialist who works with Denver’s Struggle of Love. “These kids need more opportunities, not less.”

Retire that word, "safe." It's a dishonest cover.

I’m going to trust Jason McBride on these matters. He’s in the thick of the Denver metro’s surge in youth violence, doing his damndest to prevent shootings like the one near Aurora Central, or the one near Hinkley, or the one near Overland, where the game was to be played.

“These kids already lost the last two years that they’re not getting back (due to the state's COVID-19 response). Why are we still taking opportunities away from them?” McBride said.

And I’m sure going to trust men like him over the districts and teachers unions who pretended remote learning and masketball and closures during the COVID racket were in the best interest of the kids. Folks can argue over lots of COVID things, but closing schools isn't one. One of us wrote for two years these awful things would happen, and guess what's happened?

Track records matter.

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These days Colorado’s track record for putting kids first is crap. Remote learning hit black and brown kids the hardest. Adults in charge forced masks on Colorado athletes when kids could see on Instagram Utah and Kansas had nothing like it. Now they’re canceling games when games are exactly what a lot of kids could use — a chance to show their hard work and athletic talent will be rewarded when they put that hard work and athletic talent to use.

Nope, not in Colorado. Instead of rewarding teen athletes, Colorado takes the CYA approach.

“It’s always the CYA approach,” McBride said.

Time after time Colorado has put the burden of responsibility on the kids, and that should never be the case. That’s how you end up with a pediatric mental health state of emergency and, as McBride forecasted, "in store for the worst summer of violence we’ve ever had."

“And it will continue to get worse until we start putting kids first,” McBride said.

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A high school all-star game probably doesn’t seem like a big deal to adults, and that’s because it’s not a big deal to adults. But I can tell you an all-star game is the biggest deal to the 16- and 17-year-olds chosen to play in the game. How big? This big: the man who began the A-Town All-Stars as a labor of love six years ago, Courtney Oakes, estimates 95 percent of the kids selected for the game actually have played in the game. That’s a really high number for a high school all-star game.

“It’s an opportunity for kids to represent programs that maybe weren’t in the state tournament or won a bunch of games. It’s their stage,” said Oakes, who does terrific and tireless work as a 20-year veteran of The Sentinel. 

And it’s loved by the kids.

Grandview great Michaela Onyenwere, the WNBA rookie of the year, played in the A-Town game. So did Fran Belibi, a Regis star, and Lauren Betts, a Grandview all-timer. Wyoming’s Graham Ike (Overland), Pepperdine’s Colbey Ross (Eaglecrest), Metro State’s Laolu Oke (Overland) — all played in the A-Town, not to mention a bunch of other kids who weren't quite good enough to play college ball, but still had the A-Town All-Stars to tell their buddies about.

Except in 2020 when the state’s COVID-19 response forced the cancellation of the game.

And in 2022 when the event was canceled due to a threat of violence on social media.

That’s twice in three years this city’s best basketball players had their night taken away.

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About the threat of violence: the Aurora police department told me it “was planning to increase our presence at the A-Town All-Stars game Monday evening. In our conversations with Cherry Creek School Staff, the Aurora Police Department was confident with the additional safety measures and left the final decision to cancel the event in the hands of school officials.”

There are two sides to every story, of course, so I reached out to Cherry Creek schools for its side. The district said it had been working with multiple law enforcement agencies after being notified of a threat made on social media.

“We know how important it is to the kids and the families and we really hope we can (play) it at another date,” a district spokesperson said.

Good. Reschedule and play the game. It's one game, but the cancellations and closures and disruptions are taking a toll, and awful things are taking their place.

(Contact Gazette sports columnist Paul Klee at paul.klee@gazette.com or on Twitter at @bypaulklee.)