McALLEN — As communities and local leaders throughout Texas attempt to combat the intensifying novel coronavirus outbreak, many are facing the difficult question: Can high school football and other fall sports be played, and if so, how and when?
While the University Interscholastic league has made wide-sweeping changes to its COVID-19 policies and guidelines in recent weeks and remained steadfast, for now, in sticking to its Aug. 3 start date for fall sports, that didn’t stop Corpus Christi and Laredo schools from further delaying on-campus practices.
In an email to students, faculty and staff Thursday, Corpus Christi ISD said it had chosen to push back the resumption of its summer strength and conditioning workouts until at least Aug. 3 after 14 district employees tested positive for COVID-19 in July.
On Friday, public and private Laredo schools were required to reopen for virtual, remote learning only until Sept. 4 and are barred from hosting on-campus practices until in-person classroom instruction restarts per an order from the Laredo Department of Public Health.
Both moves come on the heels of an announcement early Thursday when El Paso city-county health authority Dr. Hector Ocaranza ordered all El Paso area schools to stop in-person instruction and on-campus practices until Sept. 8.
While Rio Grande Valley health and school officials continue to evaluate a wide variety of contingency plans, local coaches and athletic directors have stressed the importance of keeping a preseason schedule before jumping back into competition.
“More than anything, I think when you prepare to compete, a lot of it comes with your strength and conditioning and training, so it’s not just a matter of showing up Day 1 and saying, ‘We’re ready to practice,’” McAllen ISD Athletic Director Paula Gonzalez said. “We really do need to make sure that our athletes get the opportunity to train so we can really try to minimize some of those injuries.”
Many Rio Grande Valley high school coaches and athletic coordinators believe that a carefully coordinated return to on-campus summer strength and conditioning and sport-specific workouts before Aug. 3 can be achieved, in part, by using lessons learned from the first run through summer workouts.
“There’s been a lot of collaboration with athletic directors and coaches around the state, so I’m hopeful there’s a way to do things and people feel good about it and we can get sports underway,” Mission High head football coach and athletic coordinator Koy Detmer said.
“We’ve been on several (Zoom) meetings with athletic directors from the local area, but also from statewide have been on some of those Zoom meetings and calls like that, so there has been a lot of collaboration and getting ideas. The things we were talking about mostly in those meetings at that time was the strength and conditioning and what procedures needed to be in place. That worked out real good; we were able to do our strength and conditioning and we didn’t have any trouble with it. The kids were great with following procedures and so were coaches, and we didn’t have any kind of problems arise during that, so I think any issues that come up tend to be outside whatever people are kind of doing on their own time.”
Weslaco High head football coach and athletic coordinator Roy Stroman echoed Detmer’s sentiment and cautiously optimistic outlook, saying that Weslaco ISD used lessons learned from June to update and add onto its existing COVID policies during its multi-week strength and conditioning hiatus with the aim of finding a way to resume summer workouts before Aug. 3.
“We’re staying positive and optimistic, and we’re still communicating with all our student athletes,” Stroman said. “Do I feel that we’re going to have a football season? I sure do, I really do. I’m pretty sure there’s probably going to be some (more) guidelines and stuff like that, but we’re preparing for a football season.”
Others wonder if, or doubt, it can be done in the immediate future, with some potential proposals calling for delaying the start of the season to allow for a full preseason warmup and others that suggest eliminating some or all scrimmages and non-district games for football and volleyball.
“The great thing about this region and all its athletic directors is that we communicate a lot either through emails or texts and see what everyone else is doing. Sometimes they have some really good ideas. Overall, we talk to our administration here and before I even communicate with our superintendent, I give her an idea of what the other schools in our districts are doing, especially the ones that we compete in,” said Mercedes athletic coordinator and head football coach Roger Adame, whose district has canceled strength and conditioning workouts until further notice.
“Most of them are or were looking at (picking back up) in a week or two, but obviously if it rolls into Aug. 3 and the first day of practice, we’ll see what we can do from there. But everybody I’ve communicated with for the most part are holding off on resuming their workouts and making sure the safety protocol is obviously there. But while we’re in control of a couple of hours of the day, when (student-athletes) go out into the community and stuff like that they may be exposed and we don’t want to risk any of that.”