HARLINGEN — The Cameron County Health Authority and Cameron County Judge Eddie Trevino Jr. issued a joint order Tuesday mandating that “extracurricular sports and activities shall not take place until school systems re-open for on-campus instruction” until at least Sept. 8 due to an increase in COVID-19 coronavirus cases across the Rio Grande Valley and Texas.
School systems have been asked to develop a plan for resuming on-campus instruction at least two weeks prior to Sept. 8, and virtual learning can take place at the discretion of school districts.
“If you can’t teach a student face to face, there’s no way you can coach a student face to face,” Brownsville Independent School District Athletic Director Gilbert Leal said.
Leal said he felt there was an outside chance that the 2020 football season would take place, before Cameron County and Hidalgo County issued the strictest education orders to date in an effort to contain the spread of the virus.
Hidalgo County will not open K-12 in-person instruction until after Sept. 27.
“With (Cameron County and Hidalgo County) combined, that pretty much finishes our football and volleyball season,” Leal said.
The University Interscholastic League’s certification deadline for football district champions is Nov. 9, a checkpoint that would need to be delayed in the event of a late September or early October start.
The UIL’s latest realignment shook up Districts 32-6A, 16-5A Division I and 16-4A Division II, combining Brownsville and McAllen schools in league play and pitting East Valley schools like Rio Hondo, Port Isabel and Raymondville against several of their traditional bi-district playoff opponents from the Coastal Bend.
“We’re looking at this locally, every district could make their own decision about when to come back,” Leal said. “These things hurt us locally, but until we get some guidance from the UIL to delegate depending on how serious it is in each place …”
Of the 42,000 students enrolled at BISD, only 1,000 participated in the district’s summer strength and conditioning program. Even in smaller groups with social distancing, Leal and BISD were concerned with the rapid spread of the virus throughout Cameron County.
“We’re not seeing a slowdown on this thing at all,” Leal said. ‘The only good thing is you’re taking it out of the hands of the individual school districts, and now that everyone is in the same boat, it prevents them from taking the risk of trying to hold face-to-face instruction.”
Cameron County superintendents have written in favor of a plan that would include 18 weeks of remote instruction for the first semester, and any sports-related coaching or instruction would follow suit.
“Our teaching is going to be virtual,” Rio Hondo athletic director and football coach Rocky James said. “Now that we’re in this point and moving into August, there will be more teaching of offense, defense and special teams (schemes). It’s going to be visual. I’m hoping we’re going to come up with a good game plan to help them.”
James is optimistic a season can take place, but that it would likely need to be rushed or condensed the further on-campus instruction is delayed on the academic calendar.
Nonetheless, he supports the countywide measure, and both Leal and James echoed the sentiment that it was important for school districts across the Valley to be on the same page regarding their plan to address the pandemic.
“I think (Trevino Jr.) has done the right thing in shutting things down,” James said. “And seeing if we can cool them off a bit.”