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COVID In Colorado: Face Masks Required During Play For High School Basketball

UPDATE: When this story was published on Tuesday masks were to be required by CHSAA for both basketball and hockey. That's no longer the case. Now CHSAA says the rule will be for basketball only.

DENVER (CBS4) - Another season of high school athletics is about to begin, and for student athletes in two of the sports, masks will be mandatory during play.  In December 2020, the Colorado High School Activities Association received a variance from the state health department to start Season B on Jan. 18. Sports include ice hockey, skiing, girls swimming, wrestling, basketball and competitive spirit.

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According to the variance, masks are required for athletes playing ice hockey and basketball, during play and while not actively participating. For wrestling, spirit, and aquatics, masks must be worn when not actively participating, but the athletes are exempt from wearing them during competition.

In a meeting about the upcoming basketball season Monday, Assistant Commissioner Bert Borgmann shared details about the mask requirement and fielded questions. When asked about why college players in Colorado don't have to wear masks during competition but high schoolers do, he said it's because collegiate athletes are tested virtually every day.

"There's always going to be pushback on everything related to masks, but participation in the sport is a privilege, not a right," he said during the meeting.

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At Manual High School in Denver, Athletic Director Doug Clinkscales is in the process of preparing for Season B. He said over the past few weeks he's spent a lot of time thinking about social distancing, sanitation plans, and mask wearing.

"We found that the medical masks, when you start sweating, they kind of disintegrate, so we've got some masks that are cloth-nylon that we think are going to be best," Clinkscales said.

Last season, Manual's pursuit of back-to-back state championships was cut short when the state tournament was canceled ahead of the semifinals.

Clinkscales says so far, it appears his players will not have a problem wearing the masks, but he anticipates some complications along the way. On Monday evening he watched the Boston University basketball teams wear masks while playing and said he noticed a lot of masks around chins or not fully covering noses.

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"It's going to be tough," Clinkscales said. "I know they're going to want to pull it down, but it's hopefully something we can get the kids trained up on."

There is some hesitation with the new mask requirement. Green Mountain High School girls' basketball coach Darren Pitzner said he's excited and thankful his student athletes have the chance to play, but he has some concerns about them having to wear face coverings.

"It's sweaty, it's challenging, it's frustrating for them, and there's not as much joy for the kids, so participation is way down," Pitzner said.

This fall Pitzner sent out a survey about the upcoming basketball season to more than 300 parents across the state. When asked if parents feel an exception to a mask requirement should be made for students who are screened (temperature check, parent waiver, and questionnaire), nearly 92% said yes.

"There's only a couple states, Colorado being one of the four west of the Mississippi, that are requiring masks through the whole game," Pitzner said.

Basketball practices may resume on Jan. 18, with games beginning on Jan. 25.

When those days come, Anthony Sleeth-Taylor, a senior at Manual High, will be among the many players wearing a mask. For him, the stakes are too high not to.

"A lot of people ride on this for their future, and I'm riding on this for my future," Sleeth-Taylor said. "I just hope that they stay focused on our season instead of other politics aside of things that determine our season."




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