‘Tis the season (to put high school sports on ice)
December 27, 2005
FARMER’S KORNER – Things are pretty quiet at Summit High School these days, where classes are not the only thing on hold. Thanks to the Colorado High School Activities Association’s (CHSAA) winter no-contact rule, high school coaches are prohibited from holding team practices from Dec. 24 through Jan. 1. “It’s the most ridiculous rule there is in all of high school athletics,” Summit High School boys basketball coach Mike Rathgeber said. “No other state does it, for one, and with wrestlers and basketball players, the rate of injury is highest in the first week back.”With the way things have gone for his team this season, it’s easy to understand Rathgeber’s frustration. After struggling initially, the 3-4 Tigers turned things around, winning three out of four games before the break. Just as it was hitting its stride, the team was forced to go idle. “The momentum of wins was helping us,” captain Alex Shackleton said. “It would have carried on to more games if we had them.”As it is, Shackleton and his teammates will have to wait 23 days to see if their momentum will carry over between games.
Longstanding policyThe winter no-contact rule has been in existence for more than 80 years, according to CHSAA assistant commissioner Bert Borgmann. “In the last 15 years, there have been seven or eight proposals to have it overturned,” Borgmann said. “But none of them got past the board of control.” Borgmann said the original purpose of the rule was simply to give athletes and coaches a break from athletics so they could spend time with their families during the holidays. “We are probably one of just a handful of states that have this rule, but most states have some kind of limitations in place,” Borgmann said. The problem with CHSAA’s rule, some say, is that it takes the wind out of too many teams’ sails. Coaches and players work hard for nearly two months to reach a high level of physical conditioning and team chemistry, and then it’s off to hog heaven for 10 days.Although coaches encourage their players to stay in shape, it’s often a tall order for Summit High athletes, who are prohibited from even entering the school unless they can find a faculty member willing to open the building and preside over a practice. “We tell our kids that every day of swimming they miss is equivalent to losing three days of training,” SHS girls swimming and diving head coach Laura Graf said. “With a 10-day break, that could equal 30 days, which puts you back at the beginning of the season.”
The Summit High squads with the least to lose from the break, not surprisingly, are the state powerhouse Nordic and alpine ski teams. Little changes for those athletes, who can use their free time to stay in shape on the snow almost like they would under normal conditions.Pros and consRegardless of whether physical conditioning is a concern, almost every coach worries about injuries. “Given the rule, I recommend a re-entry period,” Rathgeber said. “Now we jump right back into games; it’s an injury waiting to happen.”Summit wrestler Andrew Vawter-Beaird shares Rathgeber’s sentiments. “Injuries are a big concern,” Vawter-Beaird said. “We’re not stretching every day and some people will take risks, like skiing, over break.”To Summit athletes that have already been injured, however, the holiday break may represent a welcome respite from the game schedule. The girls basketball team, for example, has been without one of its best players all season. Senior Amanda Neal had shoulder surgery this fall and is due to return to the Tigers in time for their next game on Jan. 4. The holiday break has meant more recovery time for Neal, a two-time all-league selection whose height and strength have been sorely missed by her teammates.
Unlike most of his counterparts, SHS hockey coach Bryan Smith doesn’t have an issue with CHSAA’s rule, at least not this year. Smith’s 2-5 team got off to a tumultuous start and the holiday break may have stopped the season from unraveling.”I think the break is a very good thing, especially for the kids’ mental game,” Smith said. “The game is 90 percent mental.”Smith looks at the holiday break as an opportunity for his team to regroup and create a turning point for the season. Being temporarily estranged from his players, he must rely on the captains to run practice.”I’m looking for everyone to be here and to work,” assistant hockey captain Chase Underbrink said of this week’s practices. “I think we can really re-focus our attitudes and strategies, so maybe it’s a good thing.”Billy Barto, the team’s captain, flatly disagrees with the no-contact rule.”Personally, I think it’s crap,” Barto said. “I think CHSAA needs to change their rule.” Adam Boffey can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 13631 or at email@example.com.
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