Rural school districts, frustrated with CHSAA, consider starting their own athletic association – Greeley Tribune

Rural school districts, frustrated that their voices are not being heard, are considering a split with the Colorado State High School Athletic Association to create their own.

About 50 rural districts want the Colorado High School Activities Association to correct what they see as inequities within the association, beginning with the contingent’s belief that the CHSAA is not fulfilling its mission to serve rural districts.

Group leaders say they are under-represented and have little say in decision-making. Additionally, they have issues with CHSAA’s communication, financial transparency, and grievance procedures, and want more say in the impact of state events on rural schools.

The sense of disenfranchisement has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic – and is now leading them to consider a breakup with CHSAA.

“We try to work within the system and do what’s best for our children, and make sure that rural schools aren’t neglected, left out or a second thought,” the superintendent said. by Brush, Bill Wilson. “I don’t think the CHSAA leadership intends to do that, but there’s certainly been that kind of boiling feeling over the past 20 years.

“So our mindset is, let’s find the option of working together, and if we can’t, we don’t need to have a big job to do about it. To use a field term of game, at that point you take your ball and go play somewhere else.

One of the most recent disputes arose when the CHSAA made the decision last fall to move all state title football games to a single venue without consulting schools — rural or urban.

Julesburg School District Superintendent Shawn Ehnes said rural schools were upset because of the effect the decision was having on their community teams. Even though the decision gave smaller schools the opportunity to play on the same stage as larger ones, for the lower rankings who normally play title games at home, it had a direct impact on attendance. Only 75 fans per team were allowed at the Pueblo ThunderBowl due to local COVID restrictions. If the games had been played at home, more fans would probably have been allowed.

There have been other slights too, say rural leaders.

They want to know more about the cost of state championship venues, with a breakdown of revenue streams and expenses. They were also upset about the lack of notice regarding mandatory COVID testing at the state wrestling tournament. And, without giving details, they say the CHSAA’s power structure needs an overhaul.

“We see CHSAA as an organization that circles around select committees and people groups (they know it), and makes no attempt to reach out to our small districts when they change protocol, procedure and practices,” said said Ehnes. .

CHSAA Commissioner Rhonda Blanford-Green declined to comment when contacted by the Denver Post.

Rural superintendents met with the CHSAA board of directors on April 5 to express concerns about the lack of confidence of a significant portion of rural Colorado members in the association.

At its core, the grievances boil down to rural versus urban issues, encapsulated in high school athletics.

Ehnes emphasized that the effort “is not a rogue group of superintendents acting as individuals. This is a great movement of communities who are fed up with the way things are (CHSAA). »

The draft rural schools plan calls for the hiring of a small school commissioner who would oversee grades 1A and 2A, as well as the formation of a separate rural board of directors and a CHSAA advisory board of rural superintendents. . Using a survey as a temperature check earlier this year, Wilson said there were about 15 to 20 rural districts that were happy with CHSAA and did not want to pursue substantial change. But the majority did.

The band has been brainstorming for about a year, but lately they’ve gotten more serious about planning. This included studying what the settlements would look like, hiring a legal representative, and obtaining liability quotes from insurers. The fundamentals of an alternative rural association are largely in place, as is the support: Wilson said more than 100 of the state’s 146 rural school districts have been involved in recent discussions.

Spectators watch from the Eaton stands during the Eaton Reds game against the Lamar Savages in the CHSAA Class 2A State Football Championship at Neta and Eddie DeRose ThunderBowl at Colorado State University-Pueblo in Pueblo on December 4, 2020. Eaton beat Lamar 28-21 to claim the 2A state title.

“Rural school boards are behind this because they constantly hear (criticism) from parents, from student-athletes, from the community,” Ehnes said. “They’re frustrated and we all want CHSAA to be more connected to (rural communities).”

Rural schools make up about 40% of the state’s 363 member schools, but the overall student population of these schools is a significantly lower percentage. While half of CHSAA’s current 16 board members have ties to rural/small schools, Wilson’s contingent says their voice is largely ignored.

“We believe the Rural Alliance should be represented (on the board),” Wilson said. “How does an organization meet the needs of a 5A school in Denver and a small remote 1A school at the same time? Those needs are very different. There’s this (feeling) that has developed over time that says, “We’re CHSAA, we’re one, we’re Colorado,” that kind of attitude.

“Which, said another way is, ‘One size fits all.’ We want to have this conversation because we believe there are ways for CHSAA to better represent the needs of all of its members.

Initially, CHSAA had little interest in hearing from rural leaders.

Wiggins Superintendent Trent Kerr emailed Blandford-Green and Board Chairman Troy Baker on February 24 requesting a meeting with the rural group. Blandford-Green responded later that afternoon, saying the group would have a five-minute window to address council, citing an unnamed settlement and past precedent.

Kerr reported this response to the band, who “felt like a slap in the face”. So Kerr contacted Blanford-Green again, this time directly by phone, and she reversed course to schedule the April 5 meeting.

“Being in the room, I think the board really took responsibility and understood where we were coming from,” Kerr said. “They understand some of the communication breakdowns that we’ve seen over the years and could see the disparity in what’s going on (comparing rural versus urban treatment) and the lack of communication from the association.”

Following that meeting, Blanford-Green sent a detailed letter to rural schools outlining the immediate steps CHSAA planned to take to address the group’s concerns.

CHSSA Commissioner Rhonda Blanford-Green at the ...
CHSAA Commissioner, Rhonda Blanford-Green at the 2021 Colorado State Gymnastics Meet, 5A Individual Event Championships at Thornton High School on April 24, 2021.

In the letter, the commissioner said the association is “committed to rebuilding relationships, (addressing) perceived or real (concerns) with certain groups who have felt disenfranchised for many years, but even more during this pandemic year. But she was reluctant to put any support behind a ‘rural/small school subset’ of the CHSAA, saying that ‘supporting these direct demands…would lead to an increase in a faction of the association’.

Instead, Blanford-Green proposed other changes, according to Ehnes, “it’s a start, but it’s a far cry from what (rural schools) need to be satisfied with.”

These changes included an end-of-year membership survey, according to Blanford-Green, which allows “members to be included in strategic planning.” Additionally, the commissioner said she will work with the Colorado Association of School Executives to establish rural/small school representation at all CHSAA athletics/committee meetings; she will attend two or three Zoom meetings each year with the Rural School Alliance; and the association as a whole will do a better job of sharing the “why” behind its decisions.

Blanford-Green wrote that CHSAA “would not like to see any school, especially any faction of our rural or small schools, leave the association.”

“Not all perceived and real issues can be resolved in a week, month or even a year, but I believe both groups are committed to making two-way improvements and opening more transparent lines of communication in (the) best interest of the association,” Blanford-Green wrote.

But what does this mean for the immediate future of the problem?

The rural group meets again Wednesday to discuss feedback from state rural superintendents on Blanford-Green’s early suggestions. From there, they plan to host another “think tank” conversation with CHSAA.

Rural leaders hope this path will begin to lead to tangible change. If not, they are prepared with their own plan.

“It’s about getting CHSAA back to its original roots of being member-driven, communicating and getting feedback from all schools on important changes or decisions,” Ehnes said. “If the CHSAA is not able, willing or interested in doing this, then we are prepared to consider an alternative high school athletic association that will focus solely on ensuring that for grades 1A and 2A in particular, we create an association which is led by our committees.

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