High school football is officially back in Texas, at least partially.
This marks the first week Class 1A-4A football programs across the state are allowed, by the UIL, to return to the practice field amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
While plenty Class 1A-4A schools, mostly in rural areas with lower enrollment numbers, have begun their seasons, that isn’t the case for schools in the Rio Grande Valley.
Due to local county health orders from Cameron, Hidalgo and Starr counties, small RGV schools remain sidelined. Cameron County ruled athletic activities cannot begin until Sept. 7. In Hidalgo and Starr counties, Sept. 28 is the first date football practice is allowed.
“The whole thing is we want to try to give our kids some solid answers, and for the longest time, we didn’t have them,” Grulla head football coach Abel Gonzalez III said. “We just want our kids to stay positive. We’re encouraging them to continue to workout, be smart as far as social distancing and taking care of themselves, and, again, to keep hope.”
Class 1A-4A Hidalgo and Starr County schools like Grulla, Hidalgo, La Villa, Monte Alto and Progreso are e now faced with a small window to squeeze in a regular season.
Since the UIL allowed Class 1A-4A schools to begin on time Aug. 3, the district certification deadline — which determines a district champion and playoff seeding — is Nov. 7.
At the moment, schools in Hidalgo and Starr counties aren’t allowed to begin practices until after Sept. 27. This puts schools like Grulla, Hidalgo, La Villa, Monte Alto and Progreso in a position to have just three or four weeks to complete district play and determine which teams advance to the postseason.
“It’s unfortunate because we have a Nov. 7 deadline as far as we need to have our district games done by that time. It doesn’t give us much time to get our games in, but we’re going to stay hopeful for our kids and keep the safety of our kids and coaches and everybody involved, that’s the priority, but at same, if we can play, we’d love to get on the field,” Gonzalez said.
Grulla, Hidalgo and their three District 16-4A DI opponents — Kingsville King, La Feria and Zapata — are all on the same boat. The District Executive Committee got together and agreed to all begin their seasons and practices at the same time — Sept. 28 — in order to keep things leveled.
“District-wise, no one has an advantage over anybody else as far as when we’re starting. We’re kind of in the same boat; we want to be uniform as far as when this district is going to start and right now we’re looking at Sept. 28th,” Gonzalez said. “Hopefully that date can change. Again, we don’t know yet, but we’re going to stay hopeful. That’s the key word.”
Progreso and Monte Alto, which compete in District 16-3A DI and District 16-3A DII, are both in seven-team districts. The result will likely be splitting the district into two zones in order to complete three to four district games for each team.
But some of Progreso and Monte Alto’s district opponents will have a head start as they’re not prevented from practicing due to local county health orders.
That’s also the case for La Villa, which is in District 16-2A DI, as the Cardinals will be trailing three district opponents as far as start time.
Premont, Riviera Kaufer and Santa Maria are all set to begin practice Sept. 7, while the Cardinals, the only Hidalgo County team in District 16-2A DI, won’t be allowed to start until three weeks after on Sept. 28, La Villa head football coach Danny Perez said.
“We’re going straight into the district and we’re going to be behind Premont, Riviera Kaufer and Santa Maria. They’re able to start Sept. 8, and we’re going to be three weeks behind,” he said. “So they’re going to have some games under their belt, and we’re going to start off right off the back in district, so that’s the unfair advantage for us.”
Whether small schools in Hidalgo and Starr counties will be able to play three or four games remains to be seen. They’re hopeful they’re able to have a safe season for all involved.
“We hope our kids stay ready. That’s our message to them: Stay active, stay hopeful, and we’re going to do the best thing for our kids and everybody involved,” Gonzalez said.