Rural Colorado schools consider own athletic association


DENVER  |  Some school districts in rural Colorado are considering separating from the state’s high school sports association to create their own after claiming the association is not fulfilling its mission to serve their areas.

About 50 rural school districts have asked the Colorado High School Activities Association to address what they called inequities, including claims rural communities are not adequately represented and hold little influence over decision-making, The Denver Post reported Tuesday.

The districts also said there were issues with the association’s communication, financial transparency and grievance procedures, only made worse by the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re trying to work within the system and do what’s best for our kids, and make sure rural schools aren’t overlooked, left out or a second thought,” Brush superintendent Bill Wilson said. “I don’t think there’s intent from CHSAA leadership to do that, but there’s definitely been that type of feeling boiling over the last 20 years.”

A dispute arose recently when the association made a decision to move all of the state title football games to one location without consulting rural or urban schools. Julesburg superintendent Shawn Ehnes said rural schools were upset because their community-driven teams were not able to benefit from local attendance.

Rural districts said there were other decisions that were slights to the schools, including lack of notice about mandatory COVID-19 testing at the state wrestling tournament.

“We’re seeing CHSAA as an organization circle wagons around committees and select groups of people (they know), and not really making any attempt to reach out to our small districts when they’re changing protocol, procedure and practices,” Ehnes said.

Colorado High School Activities Association Commissioner Rhonda Blanford-Green declined to comment on the complaints when contacted by The Denver Post.

Rural superintendents met with the association’s board of directors on April 5 to express their grievances, bringing forth a preliminary plan that calls for hiring a new commissioner and forming a separate board of directors and advisory council.

After that meeting, Blanford-Green sent out a letter to the rural schools outlining immediate steps the association would take to address the group’s concerns.

The association is “committed to rebuilding relationships, (addressing) perceived or real (concerns) with some groups that have felt disenfranchised for many years but even more so during this pandemic year,” she said in the letter. But she balked at putting any support behind a “rural/small school subset” of the association.

Wilson said about 15 to 20 rural districts were content with the association and did not want to pursue substantial change, but the majority did, according to a survey earlier this year.

Rural schools make up about 40% of the state’s 363 member schools, but the overall student population in those schools makes up a significantly smaller percentage.

The rural school districts are now expected to meet again on Wednesday to discuss Blanford-Green’s initial suggestions. If it doesn’t work out, the group has made plans of their own.

“It’s about getting CHSAA to go back to their original roots of being membership-driven, communicating and getting feedback from all schools on important changes or decisions,” Ehnes said. “If CHSAA is not capable, willing or interested in doing that, then we’re prepared to look at an alternative high school athletic association that will be solely focused on making sure that for Classes 1A and 2A especially, we create an association that is driven by our committees.”


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