PHOTOS: Lewis-Palmer Rangers (6) Discovery Canyon Thunder (48) (copy)

The Lewis-Palmer Rangers host the Discovery Canyon Thunder in a conference football game Friday, Oct. 25, 2019.

Despite growing pressure and Gov. Jared Polis saying he would be willing to examine changes, most fall high school sports will still be held in spring, the Colorado High School Activities Association ruled this week.

The unanimous decision came as the association’s board of directors met to consider revising its previously approved 2020-21 sports calendar, fueling students’ hopes for a return of fall football.   

"We understand that our school communities would like to return to all levels of normalcy," said Troy Baker, the president of CHSAA's board of directors and the athletic director at Buena Vista High School. "We listened to all parties and the voices of our membership resonated strongly to support the plan as approved in August. The plan aligns with the CHSAA mission. All students have an opportunity to play a season during the 2020-21 school year."

The move came two days after CHSAA commissioner Rhonda Blanford-Green said the association would be willing to reconsider the calendar. The association said it planned to meet with Polis and his coronavirus response team sometime this week.

It is not clear if the organizations met before the board voted Tuesday.

In a statement Wednesday, Polis expressed support for the CHSAA, though he underscored he had been open to clearing the way for return of fall sports.

“Our administration was looking forward to allowing more student-athletes to begin their season this fall, but if the CHSAA board unanimously agrees that they should delay their season until the spring in an effort to ensure that they are better prepared to protect the safety of student-athletes then our administration fully respects that decision," Polis said. "The important thing is that every CHSAA-sanctioned athletic team sport will occur this school year giving kids the opportunity to learn important skills by participating in team sports.

"I have said from the beginning that it will take all of us — people at home, local communities, governments, businesses, and organizations working together to crush the spread of this virus."

Among the students whose hopes were dashed by the association’s stance was Palmer Ridge senior Saxon Wright, who said he considered moving to Missouri after CHSAA announced its new calendar. The all-state linebacker said he is on the cusp of getting Division I offers, but needed senior film to seal the deal.

“The fall season was the big thing,” Wright said. “I had everything set up so I could go play and get that film, but I decided I needed to stay. I have two brothers that will be on the team this year and I really wanted to play with them and my teammates I’ve been with the last three years.”

Wright and other Pikes Peak region athletes have been advocating for a fall season on social media and saw a glimmer of hope this week in Polis' comments supporting fall sports. In August, CHSAA announced it advocated for a traditional fall season, but was denied by the governor's office and coronavirus task force.

“We thought we had CHSAA on our side to play in the fall,” Wright said. “We thought things were moving forward, but if (Polis) is the one that said it’s OK for us to play, we need to really press and see if he can force CHSAA to make us play.”

Wright and his Palmer Ridge teammates, and athletes from across the Pikes Peak region, plan to gather Friday in protest of CHSAA’s decision.

“Even if we can’t play this fall we need to keep it up and make sure we secure that spring season,” Wright said. “We want to lock in that opportunity in the spring.”

The CHSAA board said in a statement Wednesday that the “safety, physical and emotional well-being of Colorado students’ participants must be at the forefront of every decision.” The board added that there would be Title IX and gender representation “issues” around reconsideration of the current sports calendar, and said the diverse landscape of educational models throughout the state “must not be undermined.”

“The board remains committed to being responsive to our community members and appreciate(s) their feedback, outreach and input throughout this process," the announcement said. "CHSAA will continue to meet regularly with the governor’s staff, COVID-19 Response Team and educational and health officials to implement the 2020-21 activities calendar.”

Last week, Michigan reversed its August decision to move football to the spring, allowing student-athletes to take the field for practice Sept. 8.

A small protest was held in Pueblo on Tuesday as athletes gathered in front of the Pueblo County Courthouse to urge lawmakers to reconsider the athletic calendar, and other protests have been scheduled across the state for Friday. Watch video footage here.

Contact the writer: lindsey.smith@gazette.com

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