The University Interscholastic League announced Thursday it would extend its suspension of athletic practices and competitions through May 4 due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
“We are working diligently on contingency plans to conduct state championships in each of the activities that have been suspended,” UIL executive director Dr. Charles Breithaupt said in a statement. “While the immediate future is unclear, we are committed to providing these much-desired activities to all Texas students and will prepare for all possible outcomes, including extended school closures.”
In an email sent to school district superintendents, Susan Elza, the UIL director of athletics, said the organization would be “providing more guidance on district and postseason date adjustments in the coming days.”
Elza also wrote that due to reduced calendar dates, “there will be modifications in qualifying structures and timelines for district and postseason events.”
Brownsville Lopez athletic director Armando Gutierrez said the length of the extended ban is “uncharted territory for all of us.”
“I believe it will have an impact due to the fact of playoffs and (regular season) games for many spring sports,” Gutierrez said. (Especially when) considering those teams that have seniors on them as well. It’s a sacrifice that is necessary when dealing with a situation such as this.”
Gutierrrez hopes a more stringent cleaning process mandated by the UIL to sterilize locker rooms and team facilities might help to combat future pandemics.
“Everything from equipment to facilities should be disinfected regularly,” Gutierrez said. “(That) should be done in most schools already, but there will be new standards of operation in that department when we commence.”
The sports that will feel the most immediate impact of the time crunch, as well as the need to secure facilities, are track & field and golf.
“This news brings me a sense of normalcy,” Brownsville Veterans Memorial athletic director David Cantu said. “It makes me think of all our hard-working student-athletes and coaches. If we’re able to compete again, that means that our unprecedented situation has improved and things can begin to return to normal.”
Track & field athletes likely will feel the brunt of these new precautions if new qualifying standards are issued.
“We are doing the best we can with this unfortunate situation,” Brownsville Hanna assistant track coach Olaya Teran said. “But we know that (the) UIL is taking precautions that are in the best interest of our athletes. We know that our athletes will try the best they can to train on their own if possible, and we know that some of our athletes may not have any workout equipment to work out in their homes.”
Santa Maria athletic director Israel Gracia said track will be affected significantly by the extended delay.
“If we are able to continue with track (we have) a limited amount of time to get in district track meets, regional and then state,” Gracia said. “With all precautions being taken, I can’t see this happening. I guess only time will tell. We need to do what is best for the health and safety of everyone involved.”
Rio Hondo golf coach Andy Alvarez said the rapidly-changing situation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic’s reach and potency may necessitate the golf season ending at the district level, provided there is a safe environment to do so on or after May 4.
“(The extended suspension) is what’s best for our kids and to keep them safe,” Alvarez said. “I believe UIL is doing as much as they can to keep the spring sports alive, but with the possibility of this virus spreading fast we need to think of the well-being of our student-athletes first.”
La Feria golf coach David Briones said the District 32-4A meet was the only one still pending on the schedule. It had been moved to April 14 when the UIL first moved to suspend athletics March 13.
“It’s going to be hard for my girls team with four seniors,” Briones said. “My boys are all sophomores and freshmen, so they still have the next two years to play. But with (the) students’ health on the line it’s best to do what’s good for the kids and coaches.”
In the interim, Brownsville Rivera athletic director Beto Leal said the responsibility will shift to the student-athletes to find ways to stay in shape on their own, after Texas governor Greg Abbott announced an executive order in a news conference Thursday that will limit social gatherings to 10 people and close all private gyms.
“They’re going to have to do a lot of things on their own after school,” Leal said. “Everything’s getting pushed back, now there’s no more tournaments. … It’s going to affect a lot of kids. I feel bad for those seniors who had goals and dreams of getting to state.”
Another marker of the spring sports calendar is spring football workouts and 7-on-7, which may affect some programs across the East Valley.
“Spring football will be shortened a lot for sure,” Brownsville Porter athletic director Uresti said. “But every football coach is on the same boat. We will get after it whenever we are allowed to get back on the field with our kids. The most important thing right now is to stay out of harm’s way and hope everyone is listening to the advice given to us by our medical, science and government bodies.”
Many Brownsville schools anticipate needing to move spring football during a period normally reserved for summer workouts.
“No matter the adjustments we have to make, the most important lesson to learn from this situation is to be prepared when it occurs again,” Gutierrez said.
Cantu said the best current option for coaches at many schools who had planned for spring football is to secure Week 1 scrimmages.
Though sub-5A schools like Port Isabel cannot compete in spring football, athletic director Jason Strunk said there is plenty still to be settled in the realm of spring sports, including basketball state championships that have yet to be played and spring sports that have been paused.
“If we get those seasons in, do we really want to compound their reduced schedule by having spring football?” Strunk said. “It’s going to be extremely difficult to resume on May 4, even if we are allowed to practice before then. The announcement today was not a positive one, in terms of athletics, in my opinion.”
Several coaches addressed the “reasonable acclimatization period” referenced in the UIL’s statement, with responses ranging from five days to two weeks to ramp up practice before resuming competition.
Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools executive director Bryan Bunselmeyer announced in a webcast Tuesday that golf and tennis would not hold district or regional competitions.
If play were to resume in either sport, TAPPS would hold a one-day state tournament in both sports with a maximum of five golfers per school and two singles players and two doubles teams per school in tennis.
TAPPS also canceled district and regional meets in track & field, and unveiled a plan for a three-day state meet that would feature running prelims and the 3,200 meter run finals on Day 1, field events on Day 2, and all remaining running finals on Day 3.
“Sports is on the back page,” Leal said. If we have to cancel a few things for the well-being of our kids, then so be it.”