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Heritage tennis players forced to forfeit state matches after classmate tests positive for COVID-19

Players were told the night before the state championship that because of possible exposure to the virus at school on Tuesday they couldn’t play and must quarantine.
Credit: Jenny Scott

LITTLETON, Colo. — Heritage High School boys tennis player Jackson Scott just wanted to play.

“It sucks, I wouldn’t want this to happen to anyone else,” Scott told 9NEWS in an interview late Friday night, 24 hours after he found out he couldn’t participate in the 5A boys state tennis tournament.

Scott, the No. 3 singles player on the team, and two teammates, Lars Lundberg and Caleb Jessen, who play No. 4 doubles, were forced to forfeit their first-round matches in the 5A tournament just 12 hours before they were supposed to compete.

Scott and Lundberg had class with another student at Heritage High School on Tuesday who later tested positive for COVID-19. They were informed of a mandatory 14-day quarantine, during which they can’t attend in-person classes or participate in any sports or activities, via e-mail at 9:00 p.m. on Thursday night. Although Jessen wasn’t directly exposed, he too was forced to forfeit because his partner couldn’t participate.

“One of my teammates got the e-mail before I did, and he pretty much just said ‘hey everybody go check your e-mail, make sure you’re going to be able to play’ and he broke the news to the team in our group text. He said, ‘I can’t play because I have to quarantine.’ So I looked at my e-mail and sure enough I had one telling me I had to quarantine,” Scott said.

Scott, a senior, had won Heritage’s regional tournament just one week earlier. It was his first time playing singles, and he said the team this year is “the best Heritage team” he had ever been part of.

“It’s frustrating to work so hard for something like this and then it’s taken away at the last minute,” Scott said.

In an e-mail to 9NEWS, Scott’s mother, Jenny, noted students and teachers at Heritage wear masks at all times, all the desks are more than six feet apart and classrooms are disinfected between sessions.

In a separate e-mail to 9NEWS, Dusty Jessen, Caleb’s mother, said Tri-County Health Department mandated the decision and Heritage administrators and coaches “tried to fight for our boys but Tri-County Heath wouldn’t budge.”  

When reached for comment, a Tri-County Health Department spokesperson released the following statement:

Because of public health privacy regulations, Tri-County Health Department (TCHD) does not discuss individual COVID-19 cases, but each investigation takes into account the factors involving the individual and the school environment. 

TCHD provides guidance and recommendations to schools for case management and quarantine of exposed persons at the school. The schools apply TCHD’s and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s guidance and, under most circumstances, make decisions about how to manage each situation at the school, since they have first-hand knowledge of classroom setups and movement within the school. 

With Tri-County Health saying “under most circumstances” the decision is made by the school following their guidance, 9NEWS reached out to Heritage Principal Stacey Riendeau, Assistant Principal Jill McCormick and Athletics Director Jill Schrader for clarification. All three deferred to Littleton Public Schools Chief Communications Officer Diane Leiker for comment.

“We are disappointed to hear that Tri-County Health says that schools make these decisions, as that has not been our experience,” Leiker said in an email sent to 9NEWS late Friday night.

Leiker added the following statement:

We have a good relationship with Tri-County Health and partner with them on every positive COVID-19 case we have in our district. Tri-County provides us with recommendations related to quarantines for both students and staff. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment states that when there is a positive case, schools must quarantine according to their guidance. Tri-County makes recommendations for quarantines according to this guidance. It is our practice to follow the guidance our local health experts give us.”

Clearly, schools, their employees, and their students are caught in the middle. This past Wednesday, LPS asked Tri-County Health if a student athlete who was in a quarantine could play in the regional golf tournament, and Tri-County said no. LPS could not make the decision to let him play; the student has to finish the quarantine as directed. Today, the same quarantine requirements applied to the two student athletes at Heritage who were not allowed to play in the state tennis tournament. 

It is frustrating for everyone when school and district leaders are told one thing, but others get a different answer. Parents, school leaders, and health officials all want what is best for our students. LPS leaders are meeting Monday and will connect with local health experts in the coming days to get some clarity around this issue, as we know that quarantines will continue to impact our students involved in activities and athletics throughout the year. 

Meanwhile, the spots of Scott, Lundberg and Jessen were filled in the 5A state tournament on short notice. When reached for comment a CHSAA spokesperson said the organization was informed by the school the three players could not participate and used “the next man up” philosophy to quickly fill the spots. 

Essentially, regional participants who barely missed qualifying were invited to the state tournament.

CHSAA filled the bracket and was not involved in the decision to make the Heritage players forfeit, the spokesperson said.

While who ultimately made the call can be debated, one thing is clear, the big losers are the players who won regional championships and then couldn’t pursue state titles.

“I kind of try to look at the positive view, but I definitely wish I could’ve gone to state, at least cheered on my team or something like that, because it’s also really hard not knowing how people are doing until the matches are over,” Scott said.

When asked if he sat at home all day Friday while other teammates played, a somber Scott responded, “Yes, pretty much.”

Credit: Jackson Scott (Courtesy: Jenny Scott)

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