DENVER — Chants of “Let us play,” bounced off the tinted windows of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on Thursday, as almost 70 people gathered to protest the state’s decision to postpone high school sports until the end of January.
In contrast to statewide protests in September, which called for the state to allow football and other fall sports to be played, Thursday’s demonstration called for CHSAA and the CDPHE to allow teams to begin practice on the season’s original start date of Jan. 4.
Less than a month before the projected start of the modified winter sports season, the Colorado High School Activities Association announced Season B sports such as basketball, wrestling, girls’ swimming and ice hockey would be delayed.
CHSAA Commissioner Rhonda Blanford-Green said in a Q&A this week that the association and members requested an answer from the CDPHE on Season B variances as soon as possible to avoid the "what if" anxiety through December.
“As much as we didn’t want to hear the answer we were given, there is hope around a delay," Blanford-Green said. "If there are some good things that happen over the Christmas break and we start to see a drop in that first week we may even be able to move it sooner, but I think I wanted an answer, and we think you wanted an answer.”
Athletes from nine schools were in attendance, including representatives from such smaller schools as Rocky Ford, Bennett, Briggsdale and Merino.
“It's not fair and it's not right. We just want to go out and play,” said Briggsdale's Malik Carlson, who sported a ring that said “COVID-19 Final Four” to honor the 2019-20 Briggsdale basketball team which made it to the state tournament for the first time in school history. Briggsdale's final-four game in the Class 1A state tournament was canceled last season due to the COVID-19 shutdown.
Various athletes and coaches spoke at the rally, with an emphasis on the pandemic's effect on students' mental health.
Sara Wylie, a senior at Akron, said her school has been largely unchanged by the pandemic. She said besides a two-week schoolwide quarantine, Akron has continued attending classes in person, with masks only required in the hallways.
But like other northeastern communities, Akron has been affected by suicide.
According to a report by the Colorado Sun, at least seven young people have died by suicide in northeastern Colorado in the last several months, including a close friend of Wylie’s, who took his life last week after spending six weeks in quarantine.
“He was a three-sport athlete and he was friends with just about everyone,” Wylie said through tears. “Seven is seven too many. I just think high schoolers need a reason to be coming back.”
Wylie’s boyfriend, Trent Elliott, a senior at neighboring Merino High School, said his school was also affected by a student’s death by suicide less than a month ago.
“It’s more than just sports,” Elliott said. “I think being around friends, being in school and having stuff to do is important for everyone. It’s so heartbreaking to see someone like that who wants to be involved, but we can’t right now.”