Let them play

Robin Wright, former Air Force football player, speaks in support of student athletes as they gather Sept. 11 outside the El Paso County commissioners building during the Let CO Play rally urging the Colorado High School Activities Association, state lawmakers and health officials to reconsider postponement of most fall sports in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Most fall sports are now approved.

DENVER — Whether you agree with Colorado’s decision to play high school football in the fall, or if you think it’s a terrible idea during a pandemic, all can politely nod on one point.

The kids just got a serious lesson in the power of protest. They learned the influence they yield with a mindful, organized, passionate approach to a cause that’s important to them. They got a lot of help from coaches, parents, social media backing, football’s success in other states — and, yes, here in this space in The Gazette — but if the athletes weren’t on board, no dice.

That’s no small thing when you’re 16, 17, 18 years old with a full and impactful life ahead of you. They helped force CHSAA to push for it. Their voices helped influence Gov. Jared Polis’ decisions. They made change.

(By the way, guys. It won’t always go your way. But if you play football you’ve lost, so you already know that. Oh, and go hard if practice starts Thursday. Coach went to bat for you.)

Because of all that, any Colorado program that wants to play in the fall starts the season 1-0. Pine Creek’s 1-0. Woodland Park’s 1-0. Peyton’s 1-0, and a bunch of others. Those are some of schools opting in for fall football, according to ace prep sports editor Lindsey Smith.

And if your guys are moving the season to the spring, that’s cool too. Friday night lights when Colorado’s snapping out of a cold winter? Count me in. I’m down for spring football. Spring football usually doesn’t count. That one counts. CHSAA will crown fall and spring state champs.

When it’s finally time to play actual games, Oct. 8, it will be interesting to see how the quality of play is affected by the late start and hurried preparation time. Just a hunch, but I expect the high school athletes are going to make the most of an opportunity they didn’t expect they would have. That’s just going off what I’ve seen in the professional ranks. I’ve seen athletes who weren’t sure if they’d get to play this season — then get to play — embrace the found opportunity. I’ve seen guys who were personally impacted by the coronavirus — like, they had it — perform like it was a career-defining year. Charlie Blackmon smashed the baseball around the yard and hit .400 through 28 games. Nikola Jokic arrived at the NBA bubble with a beach body, looking like he had been racing his horses, not horse racing. This was the best Von Miller yet. I felt like less of a man watching Von Miller tear up Broncos training camp. Stupid injuries.

Then again, maybe these high school players were on the couch all summer playing video games. But I doubt it. Playing ball with your boys is so much better than video games. It just is.

One high school coach I was talking to said, “I hope they learned something from this (experience).” Same here. I hope they learned to research the political parties and candidates who share their sensibilities and, when you turn 18, vote that way. I hope they learned that what seems to be a given, such as high school sports, isn’t a given. Never take it for granted.

But the biggest takeaway is seeing that athletes are learning the power they possess in matters that used to seem out of their reach. You saw it with Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields and Clemson national champion Trevor Lawrence pushing for college football. And you saw it as Colorado’s high school athletes stood up for their beliefs. Do it mindfully, do it respectfully, and sometimes a smart protest goes your way.

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

Load comments