As schools figure out their plans for the fall semester, one related question is what happens with sports. States like California, Washington and New Mexico have moved fall sports to the spring. But in Texas, where Friday nights in the fall are for football, public schools are going to give athletics a go.
This is a big season for the Fulshear High School volleyball team.
The Chargers won the school’s first state championship last year, and they’ve got a lot of experienced players returning. But as coronavirus cases in Texas rose and fell then rose again, it became less and less clear whether they’d get a chance to defend their title.
“That’s just been my biggest concern around all this is worried about my seniors not having their senior season. To not have that would have been devastating,” said Sydney Gotcher, the team’s head coach.
Gotcher breathed a sigh of relief earlier this week though when the University Interscholastic League, or UIL, announced its plan for the fall.
Sports and activities like marching band got the go-ahead. Schools in the four smallest divisions can start on August 3. Schools in the two biggest divisions can begin one month later.
The idea is that since bigger schools tend to be in densely populated areas with more coronavirus cases, the delay will give time for the spread to slow.
“Given all of the challenges, the variety of ways that COVID-19 is impacting different communities across Texas, this is the best solution we could develop based on what we know today,” said Jamey Harrison, deputy director of the UIL.
Harrison said that the UIL is are nowhere close to cancelling fall sports and would only do so as a last resort. But schools can choose to opt out. It’s a decision that that athletic directors across the state are grappling with.
“I guess the thing that I’m most concerned with is this disease, this terrible disease could affect our community. And so with that, it’s like, is it really safe to allow our kids to come back?” said Cheryl Fillmore, the athletic director of West Oso High School in Corpus Christi.
West Oso will open on August 24. The first few weeks will mostly be online, be the school’s volleyball and football teams can start practicing well before that.
“Being that there’s not face-to-face instruction, if they can’t do that, is it really safe for them to come back to the athletic arena? We have a concern about that,” said Fillmore.
Schools are required to follow certain social distancing guidelines. Players must wear a face covering at all times unless they’re playing or doing a drill. Stadiums and gyms will be limited to half their capacity of spectators. Anyone who develops a fever must sustain a normal temperature for three days before coming back to school. Gotcher, the volleyball coach in Fulshear, plans to film practices to identify who was near each other in case a player or coach gets the virus.
Coaches realize that even if they play by the book, there’s no guarantee they’ll get through a whole season, but there’s at least an opportunity.
“You know I think if we’re following the rules like we should, and we will as coaches, I think there’s a reasonable chance we’re going to be able to navigate our way through this,” said Rodney Webb, president of the Texas High School Coaches Association, and the head coach of the Denton Guyer High School football team.
As things currently stand, Webb doesn’t see calling off or delaying the season as an option.
“You know a lot of people would say ‘Ah, there’s the football coach talking. He just wants to get his football fix in.’ Our kids need this diversion. Our schools need it. Our communities need it,” said Webb. “It is woven into the fabric of our society. Those Friday nights are a microcosm of all that’s good in our society.”
The question that parents, principals and superintendents have to answer is whether the good that comes out of those Friday nights is worth the risk that comes with them.