I had the opportunity to partake in one of my favorite hometown activities this week: supporting local high school student athletes. Well, sort of. The few parents who were selected to actually attend the event thoughtfully videoed the events live for the rest of us to watch – thank you, parents.
I also tried to learn a little more about the reasoning for the current dictates placed on high school sports. Rules that allow only two spectators per participant, which means that a family must choose between a parent and a sibling being present to cheer on their student athlete. Very seldom now do grandparents attend, grandparents who used to be the most dedicated fans of our rural students.
What I learned is that Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA) is completely off their rocker, with seemingly no rhyme or reason for their decrees.
For example, basketball players must wear masks, which restricts their breathing in this strenuous sport – a clear health hazard, especially for our kids affected with asthma or other respiratory conditions. We know that is not a CDPHE rule, as even they allow both college and professional athletes to compete without these restrictions. We also know that surrounding states such as Nebraska are completely open and place no restrictions on their athletics – their students are unmasked and their stands are full. Again, we observe a stark difference in red and blue states’ pandemic policies: red states use common sense and compassion for their students’ mental and physical health, while here in Colorado Governor Polis and CHSAA force our kids to play “masketball” and ignore the pleas of our high school students for stability and normalcy.
How about wrestling? CHSAA banned tournaments, but allow dual matches – which means that two schools can have a competition in the same gym, but not multiple schools. Sounds fairly reasonable, right? Except CHSAA, the big school association, doesn’t understand that many of these small schools may only have five or six wrestlers who could participate in tournaments, already limiting the number of participants. But no team will travel to such a small school for a duel if they only have five wrestlers to compete with. So several rural schools still come to one community and utilize multiple gyms to wrestle each other all on the same Saturday. But somehow all these wrestlers competing against each other all in one day is different than the forbidden tournament.
What are we doing to our youth and families, our schools and communities?
In rural Colorado, schools are the center of our community. Along the I-25 corridor, one might go to a comedy club or dance hall in the evening. Out in God’s country, the community goes to sporting events. When rural schools travel to play urban schools, there always seem to be more spectators from the visiting rural school side of the gym than the home town crowd.
If I can sign a liability waiver and then climb on a bucking bull in a public rodeo arena, or better yet sign that release and go play at a trampoline park, why can’t we sign the same waiver and attend a sporting event to support our own kids?
Of course, CHSAA would never go for such a common-sense approach. CHSAA’s nonsensical decrees are hurting our small-town communities, but rural schools have options if they band together to stand up to this heavy-handed association. Perhaps it is time for us in rural Colorado to use our own common rural senses to create our own association, a Rural Sports Association operated and run by rural schools to make decisions that are best for our schools, students, and communities. Let CHSAA run their big-school policies, and we will operate an association that works for rural Colorado’s smaller schools. It certainly can’t be that hard if bureaucrats within CHSAA can manage.
Why do schools belong to CHSAA? Surely it isn’t just because they crown the state champion in sports. We don’t need CHSAA to dictate what our communities and our students need – we can do everything they do ourselves, and the vast majority of rural schools could do it better.
Jerry Sonnenberg is a state senator from Sterling, representing Senate District 1.
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