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So far, focus has remained on the games

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Like it or not, what goes on in the National Football League usually filters down to the high school level.

Many NFL players have been kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality and social injustice. The protests became magnified in response to comments from President Trump.

Much of the social media response to NFL players kneeling has been negative ever since former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat and then took a knee during the anthem in 2016 to protest racial discrimination.

So far this fall, the majority of high school athletes in Colorado have stood while the anthem is played.

The Colorado High School Activities Association doesn’t have any rules stating that athletes must stand or can’t kneel during the anthem, but a CHSAA official said several players did kneel last year.

So it is up to schools and teams to establish standards.

“I’ve only had one school even ask about it,” said Jim Thyfault, Jefferson County School District athletic director. “There is a state statute that we honor the individual and whatever their voices are. We adhere to those state statutes.”

Derek Chaney, athletic director for the Douglas County School District, says there have not been anthem protests from teams within the district.

“I’m hoping it doesn’t filter down to the high school level,” he said. “We, as a district, haven’t sent anything out or taken a stand. If the protests start, we’ll have to address it.”

At Legacy High School, the subject of protests has not been brought up, said football coach Wayne Voorhees.

“I have not even discussed it with our kids and we played last night (Sept. 28) and had no one interested in kneeling or anything else,” he said, adding “I would prefer everyone to stand.”

The protest movement, however, has started to trickle down to some high schools across the nation, according to news reports.

Nine girls on the Traip Academy soccer team in Kittery, Maine, were inspired by the NFL demonstrations and knelt during the anthem. They were then subjected to social media insults after a newspaper photo was published.

A principal at Parkway High School in Bossier City, Louisiana, has threated loss of playing time and removal from the team for athletes choosing not to stand for the anthem.

The Diocese of Rockville Centre in Long Island, New York, has warned athletes at its three high schools that protests during the “Star-Spangled Banner” would not be tolerated and protesters could face serious discipline.

Douglas County football coach Gene Hill said the issue can be used as a “teachable moment.”

“As a football program we are not against our athletes protesting,” he said. “We do believe there is a time and place for protest but it is not during the national anthem. The expectation is that our athletes will stand for the national anthem.

“We also have discussed what is going on with our players to help them through this challenging time. It is easy to see professional athletes protesting and then wanting to copy them without understanding why they are protesting. This is a great time to use this as a teachable moment and to understand what is going on in our society and why professional athletes are protesting.”

5A football changes needed

Mike Krueger, chairman of the CHSAA football committee, is welcoming feedback when it comes to 5A football.

Krueger, the district athletic director for Aurora Public Schools, sent out requests asking for input as the current two-year cycle of scheduling ends and the CHSAA committee is seeking responses to help with recommendations for the 2018-20 cycle.

I have yet to talk with anybody who is an enthusiastic supporter of the current “waterfall” 5A alignments, which have taken away some neighborhood rivalry games and replaced them with contests pitting schools often located several cities apart.

Coaches and administrators won’t flood the internet or line up with protests, but I expect they will let their feelings be known.

Changes need to be made to make league games more attractive — and that could boost the sagging attendance that was evident last season.

Jim Benton is a sports writer for Colorado Community Media. He has been covering sports in the Denver area since 1968. He can be reached at jbenton@coloradocommunitymedia.com or at 303-566-4083.

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