Members of the Colorado High School Activities Association's board of directors caved to pressure from parents, football fans and Governor Jared Polis last week, announcing that they would "provide member schools with the local option to play field hockey, football and sideline spirit during the fall (Season A) season" despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Practices are set to begin on September 24, with the first games expected to take place on October 8.
What will the contests look like? A likely preview took place Saturday, September 19, at Chatfield High School, in Jefferson County. A youth football game on one of the campus's athletic fields featured large numbers of coaches, players, family members and friends crowded along opposite sidelines, where mask use was exceedingly rare and social distancing was virtually nonexistent.
CHSAA's safety protocols are supposed to prevent such scenarios from happening. Its September 16 announcement allowing for football to be played in the fall rather than the spring, as was originally planned, cites variances allowing for "fifty players, per sideline, to be on the field during a football game."
Moreover, "all participants, including athletes, coaches, match officials, staff, and others, must wear masks while not actively playing, even outdoors. They must also be six feet apart from non-household members on the sidelines, or while not in active play. They may not go into the spectator area."
How strictly these edicts will be enforced is unknown at this point, but the best guess is that it will vary widely from location to location. CHSAA simply doesn't have the resources to police every contest, so it will likely learn of most, if not all, violations by way of complaints from participants and/or attendees.
There certainly didn't seem to be any objection to the way the game was played at Chatfield. The number of folks on each sideline appeared to be lower than fifty, or close to that. But players, coaches and the assorted fans freely mingled, faces uncovered, with the distance between them often measured in inches rather than feet.
Granted, public-health officials believe that infections are much less likely to occur outside than inside — a significant factor in CHSAA's decision to give football, field hockey and sideline spirit the go-ahead. But if boardmembers are actually confident that everyone will wear masks and maintain six-foot gaps between themselves and others not in their immediate family, the game on Saturday represented a very different reality.
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