Varsity volleyball player prevented from play after academic transfer during pandemic

Local News

BROOMFIELD, Colo. (KDVR) – A high school varsity volleyball player who transferred schools during the pandemic for an in-person learning experience says she the Colorado High School Activities Association is preventing her from continuing to play the varsity sport at her new school.

“It’s very stressful. I wish I could just play,” said Morgan Anderson, a sophomore who transferred to Holy Family High School in Broomfield in January. “It’s just another thing that COVID has halted for me.”

Anderson, who made the varsity team during her freshman year at Legacy High School, said she switched schools this year because online learning was tough.

Doing chemistry class and weightlifting online, was difficult, she said. “I don’t have a (weight) rack at my house to do weightlifting, and my parents don’t have a Bunsen burner,” she said.

Holy Family High School offered a completely in-person learning experience, so she transferred.

Although the last high school volleyball game she played was in October 2019 while attending Legacy High School, the CHSAA and an appeals committee determined she would not be eligible to play at her new school, due to the calendar shift for various sports’ seasons because of COVID-19 and the manner in which the state’s bylaws have been adapted and interpreted.

“It’s frustrating. You want to advocate for your kid,” said Andrew Richburg, Anderson’s stepfather. “We’re not getting the right kind of responses from CHSAA. We feel that they really have made this arbitrary decision,” he said.

Richard said he read the CHSAA bylaws, which seemed very clear to him:

A student who establishes his/her/their high school eligibility at any high school and subsequently transfers, will be ineligible for varsity competition for 365 days from the date of their transfer, in the sports they participated in  a practice, contest, scrimmage or foundation game during the last 365 days.  

Richburg said it had been well over a year since his daughter had competed in the high school sport, so he believed she should be permitted to join her new school’s team.

But Anderson has repeatedly been denied eligibility.

“Initially it was like this frustration, like why in the world, in the midst of everything that’s going on with COVID, all the things that kids are struggling with right now – their mental health issues, academic issues all those things – why would you deny it?” said Richburg.

“It just feels like one more dig from COVID, and I just would really like to be able to play,” said Anderson.

The Problem Solvers reached out to the CHSAA commissioner, Rhonda Blanford-Green, who said Anderson could play on the junior varsity volleyball team. She also said Anderson and her family have an additional appeal opportunity.

Blanford-Green said in order to remain equitable for all student athletes whose sports seasons changed, the bylaws had to be adapted.

“As the novel coronavirus swept the globe, much less the sub-set of organized educational and sport organizations, the CHSAA adapted many eligibility and participation bylaws to adjust to the state’s approved four season calendar versus the traditional three,” said Blanford-Green in an email statement to the Problem Solvers. “The seasons of select traditional fall sports, including all indoor opportunities were shifted by CDPHE to commence at later date which meant that the traditional 365 was no longer applicable if the transfer rule would be applied fairly and equitably for all transfer students during the pandemic 2020-2021 competitive season.”

In an email letter to Richburg, Blanford-Green further explained the decision that prevents Anderson from playing varsity volleyball.

“The Commissioner denied the waiver as submitted for full-varsity eligibility as the student participated in the 2019 last competitive season,” she wrote.

“Making decisions about kids based on CHSAA’s subjective judgement of equitable is the exact opposite, inequitable,” Richburg said. “The objective transfer rule of 365 days is, on the other hand, equitable.  Picking and choosing to interpret the rules based on Rhonda’s opinion of privilege seems like a slippery slope.”

The commissioner said she would try to expedite any future meetings or hearings if the family were to continue the appeal process. 

Richburg said he plans to follow-through with the process, but he fears the season will be over by the time the issue is further considered by CHSAA.

Meanwhile, Anderson’s family consulted with education and civil rights attorney, Igor Raykin, who wrote a letter to the CHSAA on their behalf.

“There is no valid reasoning to keep this child from playing,” Raykin said in the letter. “COVID has been tough on everyone, and there is nothing to be gained by making it tougher on a kid who already is struggling. And yet, CHSAA is punishing a child for the simple act of wanting to get a quality education.”

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