School may be out, but the Colorado High School Activities Association has been busy adopting some new rules.

One of the biggest new rules will affect coaches. In a step aimed at improving the mental health of students in Colorado high schools, the CHSAA board of directors has approved as a requirement that all coaches take a course on student mental health.

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 31 percent of high school students reported symptoms of depression in 2017, and 17 percent reported they seriously considered attempting suicide.

So, starting this fall, all coaches must take the course Student Mental Health and Suicide Prevention on the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Learning Center, or a district-led mental health training. The NFHS course is free.

To be a registered coach, this requirement must be satisfied.

“CHSAA’s vision is to deconstruct the stereotypes around mental health and help start the conversations that need to happen around our kids,” CHSAA Commissioner Rhonda Blanford-Green said. “The mental and physical well-being of our student participants is our priority.”

The decision was made with the full support of the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC), which discussed the topic at length during its meeting last school year.

“The committee was focused on finding great tools that we can give to our schools and coaches to help provide awareness around mental health, which is among the most important issues our students face,” said Jenn Roberts-Uhlig, the CHSAA staff liaison to SMAC.

“We believe it is important for coaches to not be afraid to look for the signs and symptoms of a student who is struggling with their mental health, and this training will provide valuable instruction in how to do that.”

Other changes affect baseball, track and cross country.

In baseball, the use of the designated hitter has been expanded.

There are now two scenarios in which a designated hitter may be used.

The first scenario is the traditional use where the designated hitter may be a 10th starter who hits for any one of the nine starting defensive players.

The starting designated hitter can now also be a starting defensive player. Using this option, the player has two positions: defensive player and designated hitter. The team would begin the game with nine starters – nine defensive players – one of whom also assumes the role of the designated hitter.

“With the change adding pitch-count restrictions to high school baseball, this will allow pitchers to remain in the game as a hitter while removing them from pitching,” said Elliot Hopkins, NFHS director of sports and student services and liaison to the NFHS Baseball Rules Committee.

“Typically, pitchers are stronger hitters as well. However, the intent of the rule is not for it to become strictly a pitcher-designated hitter role. The rule provides additional avenues for other position players as well. The change allows coaches to strategize how to keep players in the game to contribute offensively while allowing another player a chance to participate on defense.”

On the track, exchange zones for the shorter relay events have been expanded. Changes to Rules 5-3-3 and 5-3-4 expand the exchange zone in relays with legs of 200 meters or less from 20 to 30 meters. All exchange zones for races with legs longer than 200 meters will remain at 20 meters.

The National Federation of State High School Associations said the new rule won’t require tracks to be repainted since existing zone markings like triangles, squares or colored tape may be used.

In cross country, one change adds language to Rule 8-1-3 regarding straight-aways at the start of a course. The change provides a recommended minimum distance of 100 meters for beginning straight-aways and states that no narrow section of a course should be longer than 10 feet (3 meters) long.

Small cones of the appropriate color, at least 12 inches (30 centimeters) high, are also now permitted in lieu of painted lines or survey chalk.

Another rule change now allows cross-country competitors to assist injured athletes. The new rule says, “A competitor who provides assistance to an injured or ill competitor should not be disqualified if neither the individual competitor providing the assistance nor his/her team gains an advantage as a result of providing the assistance.”

The start of the high school fall sports season is less than a month away. Boys’ golf teams can begin practice on Aug. 5 while the rest of the fall sports can begin Aug. 12.

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