McALLEN — Multiple sources close to the situation told The Monitor on Monday afternoon that McAllen ISD is committed to and standing by existing plans to play out its fall sports seasons during 2020 in accordance with the University Interscholastic League’s modified athletic calendar for the upcoming school year.

“As of right now, we are definitely committed,” said Conrado Ito Alvarado, a McAllen ISD board member who responded to an inquiry from The Monitor.

“I truly understand that this is a crisis right now. I’ve lost a lot of friends and I’m trying to be very respectful of that. I’m afraid for my parents and anyone at risk; I’m super afraid. But at the same time, I’m also afraid for some of these kids who are unfortunately being affected by this. I think sports do help. Fine arts help. All of that helps if we can get them back doing something.”

The news comes hours after La Joya ISD officially informed its District Executive Committees that La Joya High, La Joya Juarez-Lincoln and La Joya Palmview will not participate in cross country, football or volleyball during this fall due to scheduling dilemmas caused by the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic.

Sources explained McAllen ISD is thoroughly and closely monitoring situations at Class 1A-4A and other small schools throughout the region that are currently engaging in fall sports competition at this time.

Meanwhile, the district is also maintaining an active internal dialogue about what changes must be made and what the safest way to proceed will be. Those discussions have led the district to reevaluate every aspect of practices and the on-campus game day experience.

“We’re learning from other districts every day. And a lot of it is really small stuff, like water bottles,” Alvarado said. “You can’t share water bottles (under UIL COVID-19 mitigation guidelines), so we’re looking at getting a lot of the kind that you operate with your feet so that athletes can do it themselves. We’re looking at every aspect of it: the capacity of our stadium, putting the band on the field, just everything in preparation to have a season.”

Alvarado, whose kids currently play sports in McAllen ISD, was keen to point out — as have multiple head football coaches throughout Cameron, Hidalgo and Starr counties — that canceling high school-sponsored athletics won’t keep student-athletes at home or from finding a way to play.

Additionally, non-school sponsored teams and leagues would lack much of the oversight, accountability and resources that only local school districts could likely provide in the quantities necessary.

“Let’s be realistic: Kids aren’t going to stay home, and these are the healthiest kids. These are kids who are working out (routinely),” Alvarado said.

“My kids play sports and my son is a senior (football player), so any type of season that we can salvage for these kids would be great. For me, La Joya ISD made the decision a little too early, but they might be right. They might be correct in that decision, but when we played them in 7-on-7 this weekend and talked to some of the Palmview boys afterward, I asked some of them, ‘Hey, how are you guys staying busy?’

“‘Oh, we’re working, sir,’ or ‘I’m helping my dad in construction,’ they told me. Another guy said, ‘I’ve been out with my girlfriend doing all these things.’ That’s what I keep telling people: If we cancel the season, it’s not like these young men and young ladies are going to be at home doing nothing, so at least we have them in a situation where they’re receiving education and we can kind of hopefully monitor them a little, make sure they’re staying away from parties and stuff like that.”

Multiple sources told The Monitor that while the district could still reverse course pending future developments, the district won’t make a decision one way or the other regarding fall sports until mid-to-late September, which is when public county health orders in Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr and Willacy counties regarding on-campus school activities are currently set to expire.

Alvarado noted that “any decision to play fall sports in McAllen ISD will be made by the superintendent and his administrative team with input from the entire school board,” and said it will be a joint decision made in the best interest of all the district’s student-athletes.

He explained why sports might actually provide the best insight for McAllen ISD and other school districts throughout the Rio Grande Valley on how to safely return large groups of students to campuses at some point during the school year too.

“I also don’t want to wait until January to bring 26,000 students back into McAllen all at once, so I think we can bring some of our student-athletes onto campus gradually and learn from that process. What happens if someone tests positive? Are we able to socially distance in those small numbers? That gives us some kind of insight so that when students are ready to come back, we have some experience with some of these students,” Alvarado said.

“I mean, are we really going to try to do this all at once? We’ve got to do this in phases, too. So to me, a phase of bringing them in by the end of September with games toward the end of October would help us get ready for when all the students come back and maybe it’s after January. I don’t know, but whenever it is, I would think that would help us.”


Twitter: @ByAndyMcCulloch