Winter high school sports to officially begin in Garfield County on Jan. 18 |

Winter high school sports to officially begin in Garfield County on Jan. 18

Coal Ridge’s Moises Contreras glides to the basket during a boys game against Grand Valley in late January 2020.Kyle Mills / Post Independent

Ben Kirk already has a plan for tip-off time.

The Coal Ridge High School athletic director will climb to the top of the bleachers, take a seat and simply soak it all in.

“These kids have been waiting for a long time,” the Coal Ridge High School athletics director said. “I’m ready to get our gyms full and kids in there doing their stuff and getting back to action.”

In late December, high schools across Garfield County and Colorado were given some great news. The Colorado High School Activities Association announced that, by securing a variance with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the winter sports season could officially commence on Jan. 18.

Operations section chief for Garfield County’s COVID-19 response team Zac Sutherland said all schools returning to winter sports must follow guidelines put in place by the CDPHE. Those guidelines are determined by the specific COVID-19 dial metric in which any county falls under.

For example, up to 50 participants will be allowed at one time during boys swimming meets and 25 participants for wrestling meets, Sutherland said. High school basketball games, meanwhile, should allow 24 players, including coaches and trainers, in a gym at one time.

As for spectators?

“It really depends on the sport and what the setup is,” Sutherland said. “If it’s indoors, obviously having spectators makes things more difficult. Then we need to look at the social distancing calculator, make sure that we’re starting within capacity, in that respect.”

Nevertheless, after a number of delays and tedious season schedule tweaks, high school coaches across the state will be happily inundated with hockey, skiing, girls swimming, wrestling, competitive spirit and of course basketball practices.

“I am so pumped to start basketball and just hear the kids and their squeaky shoes on the floor and basketballs bouncing and wrestlers in there getting after it,” Kirk said.

No doubt, Colorado high school sports have experienced an unprecedented rollercoaster ride of emotions since the pandemic began.. The spring 2020 season was of course canceled. By fall, a confusing, disharmonious start to high school seasons were also burdened by what team, in what particular county, could actually play.

“I am so pumped to start basketball and just hear the kids and their squeaky shoes on the floor and basketballs bouncing and wrestlers in there getting after it,” Ben Kirk

For instance, cross country programs across Garfield County ran their tails off this fall. Local volleyball was sidelined.

To add more fuel to the fire, the winter sports season was originally slated to begin Jan. 4. Then earlier in December, that start date got pushed back to Feb. 1.

This means an abrupt switch to Jan.18. Although the earlier date was welcomed with open arms by high school athletics directors and coaches, it poses somewhat of a logistical labyrinth for everyone behind the scenes.

“When it moved to Jan 18, it was like, ‘heck yeah,’” Kirk said. “One kid texted me and said, ‘It’s a Christmas miracle.’”

Grand Valley High School Athletic Director Dave Walck is also looking forward to living out this miracle.

“I think it’s been a long coming,” he said. “It’s just been hard to sit and wait and watch kids not get to do what kids need to do.”

For Walck, some of the more challenging aspects of navigating his way through a COVID-19 sports season has been simply trying to encourage student athletes to stay on top of things. “I’ve learned to be patient through this process and just remembering everything we’re doing is for the kids,” he said.

Kirk said Coal Ridge should see practices being conducted in pods of 10 people or less. This should include one coach and nine athletes. Any more would violate the COVID-19 dial implemented by the state.

And with the first set of games and meets scheduled for Jan. 25, that leaves about a week for training and preparation. Still, Kirk said his student athletes have already been hard at it anyway.

“Right now our gyms and our weight room are pretty much busy all day long, with 10 kids at a time for an hour,” he said.

As for the seasons themselves, they’ve essentially been sliced by more than a quarter. For Coal Ridge, a typical 23-game season has now dropped down to 14 games. Grand Valley boys basketball amassed 20 games last season. The new switch abbreviated that to 12 games.

In addition, local sports fans will have to cheer their favorite athletes on via live stream.

“Bottom line is, I just want to see kids get into a uniform, get out on the field of competition and give it their best, and I will be a happy, happy soul,” Walck said.

In other words, people are starving for sports right now.

“I bet the number of people that are following sports and watching sports is going to skyrocket because of this,” Kirk said of sports coming back. “Unfortunately, we are not going to be able to pack our gyms because I think right now we would.”

But despite the hurdles, excitement for the season is palpable.

“This is going to sound cliche, but I’m a fan of kids,” he said. “I get a little emotional just thinking about it. This is why I’m here, so I can be part of these kids’ experiences.”

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