A sports season of masks and social distance

Michael Ford

Editor’s Note: On October 6, the Colorado Academy Boys Golf Team overcame the odds to win the State Championship. Read more about their triumph in the CA Fall Journal, arriving in your mailbox in early November.

They had to play a compressed season, wearing masks much of the time, and in some cases, they played an unexpected sport, but Colorado Academy’s student-athletes have nothing but positive things to say about competing during COVID-19.

“I’m really enjoying the fact that we were allowed to play Tennis,” says 4A State Champion Senior Michael Ford (#3D). “We took the rules seriously, and everyone has been so cooperative.”

“I’m so happy I did Cross Country,” says Senior Ellie Wadsworth. “I’ve met new people, and running practice is a good way to spend time. Otherwise, I would just be sitting at home!”

“It was so exciting to know that Golf was going to be a normal part of my life,” says Senior Jamie Smith. “People are really conscientious about social distancing, and they are playing by the rules, because they don’t want to lose the privilege.”

For their part, the coaches of the three CA sports permitted by the Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA) say that the season had some small challenges, but nothing that could not be overcome with planning and hard work.

Junior Bo Turnage at the Regional

Golf

Coach Beth Folsom is characteristically matter-of-fact when she talks about how students adjusted to golf during a pandemic.

“The athletes wear masks when they are around other people, and they are good about complying,” she says. “But once they are practicing or playing they are fine—mask-free and maintaining their distance.”

She had 26 boys turn out for Golf this fall, and describes them as “a really nice group of kids.”

While the team missed some invitationals because of limitations on travel, Folsom minimizes the disruption and describes the season as “no different” from others.

For Senior Jamie Smith, one adjustment was the need to bring a water bottle, because water stations along the courses are now closed. “A four-and-a-half-hour round would definitely be a struggle if you forgot your water bottle,” he laughs.

Golf is intrinsically a socially distanced sport, and Smith believes that has created an unintended consequence during the pandemic. “There’s more hype about golf on social media, and people are paying attention,” he says. “I’ve had friends come out and play with me for the first time. I think there is a resurgence of interest in the sport among young people.”

Sophomore Toren Knepper

Cross Country

For Coach Annie Bennett’s Cross Country Team, the challenge posed by CHSAA pandemic rules related to distance—runners were required to stay 10 meters apart when they trained. “It’s challenging, but we know the rules, and we are doing what’s asked of us,” Bennett says. “We are just honored to have the chance to compete, because it’s so important for mental and physical health.”

Approval from CHSAA to play came just four days before the season started, so competitions have been arranged on the fly, with coaches calling each other and asking, “How can we make this happen?” When they compete, runners wear masks until the start of the race. Then the masks come off, explaining why you see runners with masks hanging under their chins or tucked into shirts.

“The kids have been tremendous,” Bennett says. “I’m up-front explaining our mission and our goal for the week, and they have had great attitudes. They feel lucky to have this opportunity, and they don’t want to ruin it for everyone else.”

Bennett had 16 student-athletes on her team, 9 boys and 7 girls. She thinks some of the girls might have tried Cross Country this fall, because of the CHSAA plan to postpone the Field Hockey season until spring. That was the case for Ellie Wadsworth.

“Initially, I was bummed we couldn’t play Field Hockey this fall,” Wadsworth says. “But now I think that waiting until spring was smarter, and running has been a great way to stay in shape.”

Regional Tournament Director and CA Assistant Athletic Director Jon Hill presents the First Place Regional Trophy to Tennis Coach Noah Tondre.

Tennis

Last spring, Coach Noah Tondre and his Tennis players watched tennis courts lock down around the city. No courts mean no chance to play, so CHSAA’s decision to allow a season was reason to celebrate.

“The kids are in great spirits,” Tondre says. “They are so happy they can play.”

Still, players had to work hard, because the Tennis season was significantly telescoped. The first match was August 21. Regionals took place on September 16-17—when they usually would be scheduled for October. Nonetheless, players adapted to the rules, including the fact that only the person who is serving can touch the ball. “If the non-server has to get the ball, he has to pick it up with his racket and hit it over the net,” Tondre says. “That’s produced a few comical moments.”

“I’ve been a victim of that comedy myself,” Michael Ford laughs. “It takes some practice.”

Otherwise, COVID-19 didn’t stop Ford from having a great season, taking home top state honors in #3 Doubles.  He says wearing a mask became “less of a nuisance and more of a habit.”

“These are the last matches we will get to play for CA,” he says. “A mask didn’t matter that much—I’m just glad we got to play.”