Killeen Harker Heights head coach Jerry Edwards was enjoying his spring break sky trip in Colorado when word came down the the NCAA cancelled its men’s and women’s basketball tournament and the professional leagues soon followed.
At that moment, he knew how serious the COVID-19 epidemic had become.
“It all happened really, really fast and within a two to three-hour time period, the NCAA cancelled, the NBA cancelled and I guess it started with the (Utah) Jazz when they pulled their players off the court,” Edwards said. “Twitter started coming in with some school districts in the Houston and Dallas area were thinking of extending spring break, that’s when I started thinking this was going to be a little bit more serious than what I anticipated.”
High school football coaches, administrators, elected officials and everyday citizens from around Texas have had their lives effected by the COVID-19, commonly referred to as the Coronavirus, outbreak world and nationwide.
Two weeks ago the NCAA cancelled March Madness, the NBA and NHL suspended their respective seasons, the MLB suspended spring training and indefinitely postponed opening day.
On Thursday, the UIL extended its suspension of any games, practices, rehearsals and activities to May 4. Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order later that day calling calling for the closure of all schools and fitness centers, social gatherings to be limited to no more than 10 people, all bars and restraints be limited to only takeout and delivery and hospital visitations to be limited to only visitors that are providing medical attention to the patients. The order closed schools through Apr. 3.
The biggest gridiron ramifications comes for the most populous classes, Class 6A and 5A. Under the Sec. 1250 of the UIL’s Constitution and Contest Rules, those schools may conduct 18 spring football practices in 34 calendar days. If schools choose to participate in spring football, those programs must begin fall practice on Aug. 12 instead of Aug. 5.
The Coronavirus has forced high school football coaches and players to adjust to an unprecedented situation.
“I think the kids are getting a little antsy, I think more than anything, it’s the break from the normal routine that’s kind of wearing them out,” El Paso Americas head coach Patrick Melton said. “When you’re used to doing something everyday and when the day is outlined, getting away from that schedule kind of messes with your mental health.”
In south Texas, Victoria East head coach Roland Gonzalez said that the Victoria Independent School District has done a great job assisting educators and coaches in utilizing technology and social media to ensure information is properly communicated.
“I’m old school man, so it’s a learning tool for me too right now,” the Titans head coach said. “It’s a blessing in disguise, it’s going to be a great tool for us, a great resource for us to utilize to maintain those lines of communication. Even though we’re separate, (we get) to have an opportunity to be together through social media.”
Timing is important with situations like the one that coaches face across the state. Melton, for example, is entering his 12th season as Trail Blazer head coach and has an experienced, talented group of returners and was only going to use the spring as a refresher.
Americas has its most successful season since the school began competing varsity football in 1998. The Trail Blazers finished 10-2, went 5-0 in District 1-5A and won an outright district title for the first time in school history.
Melton added that spring football, originally scheduled for Apr. 27 to May 22, would have been more important last year when the team had younger pieces. While Americas graduated quarterback Michael Nowell who threw for 2,000 yards and 22 touchdowns, Evan Chisholm has experience under center and is ready to inherit the offense.
“Last year spring was necessary for us because we had lost our starting quarterback right before spring practice and we had to get a new guy ready,” Melton said. “Evan’s been playing quarterback in our system the whole time, I just didn’t want to use him at quarterback because he’s such a good wide receiver and defensive back.”
On the flip side, Harker Heights needs to replace all five starting offensive linemen from a team that went 4-7 in 2019 and made it to the playoffs for the first time since 2016. The Knights hoped to begin spring football on Apr. 7.
“I think that would have been a good learning time for those five guys to get together,” Edwards said.
Edwards and Melton said that because of the epidemic, they anticipate the possibility of not conducting spring football and beginning fall workouts on Aug. 5.
Melton said that this week would normally be Americas’ quarterback school and is using technology, such as PowerPoint, to help serve as a refresher.
Edwards said that athletics helps people adjust and adapt to ever changing and unpredictable situations. He said that at some point, the world will return to a sense of normalcy, anticipates having a 2020 high school football season and the teams that take advantage of this time and don’t treat it like an extended vacation will be better for it this fall.
“It’s like I told my players, the offseason hasn’t stopped, we’re still in offseason, we just have to do it in another fashion than we’re accustomed to,” Edwards said “Those kids have to keep working out, keep going outside, running, conditioning, throwing the ball around and do all the things that they can possible do at home. I think the teams and players that do that will see the benefits in the fall.”
It wasn’t that long ago that many of the players in the Titans program had their lives disrupted in a similar fashion.
Victoria was in the path of Hurricane Harvey in August 2017 and Victoria, like various other coastal communities, had to put athletics on hold while the communities rebuilt.
“One of the things that we do in our athletic program is to try to promote the ability to overcome adversity,” Gonzalez said. “This is just another life learning experience for out guys to understand it’s how you respond to that and our kids have done a pretty good job at overcoming those things, Harvey being a good example of that.”