The University Interscholastic League (UIL) announced last week that there have been significant scheduling modifications for sports and extracurricular activities that will impact multiple area schools. The state organization also released amended COVID-19 mitigation guidelines that will take effect Aug. 1.
One major modification is that the beginning of marching band activities and curriculum would be pushed back until Sept. 7. According to the UIL, start dates for the 2020 football and volleyball seasons have also been pushed back at least a month – volleyball to Sept. 14 and football to the week of Sept. 24 – for schools that compete in Class 6A and 5A.
The pushed-back dates will impact all Fort Bend ISD schools. And while that may be an inconvenience, at least some of the district’s coaches know there is much more at stake than wins and championships.
“On the one hand, I’m an athlete and I’m competitive – I don’t know anything other than volleyball, and I want a season to happen more than anybody,” Ridge Point volleyball coach Lauryn Bailey said. “But at the same time, I would hate putting my family or myself at risk. I understand both sides.”
Marshall High School football coach James Williams echoed the sentiment.
“You’re not doing kids justice if you’re putting them in harm’s way,” he said. “This pandemic is something we don’t typically prepare for, but we just need to be careful and keep safety first (for all of us).”
Stafford High School, which competes in Class 4A, will tentatively be able to begin its fall seasons on time – Aug. 10 for volleyball and Aug. 27 for football. Cross Country and tennis can host meets beginning Aug. 17 in all classifications.
“Our goal in releasing this plan is to provide a path forward for Texas students and schools,” UIL executive director Charles Breithaupt said in a news release. “While understanding situations change and there will likely be interruptions that will require flexibility and patience, we are hopeful this plan allows students to participate in the education-based activities they love in a way that prioritizes safety and mitigates risk of COVID-19 spread.”
Under the UIL’s guidelines, schools must require staff to self-screen along with screening visitors for COVID-19 symptoms before they take part in any UIL activities such as band or athletics, or enter areas where UIL activities are being conducted. Parents must also hold students out of activities if they show any symptoms of the coronavirus, according to the UIL.
Schools must also make hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, soap and water, or similar disinfectant readily available inside band halls, locker rooms or any other shared space, and thoroughly sanitize those areas and any shared equipment after each use.
Williams said he and his staff plan to begin strength and conditioning on Sept. 7 – the first day teams are allowed to gather— and begin full-squad practices the week of Sept. 14 leading up to their first scheduled game.
“It really depends on what the virus is doing,” he said of the ability to play a full season. “These guidelines put forth will help us get through the season, but it depends on if this thing keeps spiking.”
Bailey said the Lady Panthers, state semifinalists last season, have conducted skill workouts in accordance with UIL social distancing guidelines over the summer, and did not have any positive tests as a result of those workouts. She plans to begin workouts on the UIL’s instructed date the week of Sept. 7
“I feel like it can be done – it just takes a little extra planning,” she said.
The UIL said all employees, parents, visitors and students 10 years of age or older must wear face coverings or face shields upon entry to an area where UIL activities are being conducted if they are not practicing or playing. The UIL also said groups such as marching bands, cheerleaders, drill teams and other groups approved by the school district may attend and perform at games or contests, but schools should consider limiting participants to those essential to the performance.
The UIL’s complete COVID-19 guidelines can be viewed at uiltexas.org/policy/covid-19/2020-2021-uil-covid-19-risk-mitigation-guidelines. More information such as modified athletics schedules can be found at uiltexas.org/policy/covid-19.
“As long as we still follow these guidelines, it’s doable,” Bailey said. “It may not be ideal, but sometimes you’ve got to roll with what you’ve got.”