The UIL made its highly anticipated decision on Tuesday morning regarding the Texas high school football season, announcing that 1A-4A schools will be allowed to begin practices and games on time, while 5A and 6A schools will be delayed for a month. However, this announcement opened a whole new can of worms as 1A-4A teams currently restricted by local health orders will now see their seasons shortened while their counterparts get a head start.
“This really created a major predicament for our program, and the other 4A schools in the same boat as [Mountain View],”said Clint Mountain View head coach Gary Rundell, whose program cannot begin in person workouts until after Labor Day due to the El Paso County health order. “What the county health order does to our season is basically push it back to the same starting parameters as the 5A and 6A [schools]. Now our opener is going to be on October 2nd.”
The UIL’s logic on paper is understandable. In theory, 1A-4A schools are located in smaller towns where there has been less spread of COVID-19. These lower transmission rates and case counts make it theoretically safer for the season to begin on time for these teams. Furthermore, many of the players at these schools are multisport athletes. Pushing back football by weeks or months could potentially conflict with basketball season and then potentially spring sports, where the football players are needed to contribute and help make up the numbers.
In reality, there is no easy split between urban and rural communities in the UIL’s conferences. Houston ISD has eight 4A programs. Dallas ISD has six 4A programs and Dallas Madison, a 3A program, and the list goes on.
McLennan County, which contains Waco, issued an order this week delaying in person learning and extracurricular activities until after Labor Day. This affects 16 teams that were meant to begin practice on August 3rd in all four conferences, including three-time defending 2A state champs Mart and 1A Gholson ISD, evidence that there is no easy split among the conferences.
For 4A Ranchview in Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD, which must follow the Dallas County health order preventing in person learning until after Labor Day, this latest announcement by the UIL will put them further behind as no other team in their district is currently restricted by a local health order.
“My main concern is safety. All of the other schools in our district have been working out since June 8th. We have only had three weeks this summer due to shut downs,” Ranchview head coach Terry Smith said. “We were [always] going to be behind. With the latest announcement, it’s just more of the same. Our district will have played two scrimmages and four games by the time Ranchview gets to play our first game.”
That head start for some teams is the root of the predicament that the UIL’s announcement caused. And it is not solely one of unfairness, but it raises safety concerns as well.
“We are playing Pecos that night [the season opener on October 2nd for Mountain View], a very strong, physical team that enjoyed a lot of success last year. The problem in front of us that I worry about is the fact that when we play Pecos, that will be their 6th game, and our opener,” Rundell said. “Anyone that understands sports knows the problems this could potentially create. They will be totally in sync, in game shape, and we will be like a baby deer just trying to get our legs under us.”
The UIL was always going to be in a tough situation as they decided how the season would proceed. There are 254 counties and over 1,200 UIL high schools with football in Texas. It was virtually an impossible task to find a solution that would have satisfied all of them as the case count and local orders vary in each of the counties in the state.
Moving forward, the only thing players and coaches can do in these predicaments is make the best out of what is a very tough situation.
“As for what it will look like for the [rest of] the season, we will be a team of kids doing everything they can to be successful. You won’t hear excuses or looking back,” Smith said. “We have great kids and this is just another challenge they will have to face in their life. Hopefully it will be a great lesson for them and help them to be better young men.”
After seeing the heartbreak of the cancellation of spring sports, Rundell said his team is just excited to have an opportunity to step onto the gridiron and prove themselves at some point this fall.
“In all honesty we are just thrilled that we are going to have a season. The six games we are going to have is six more than last year’s graduating seniors got in spring sports,” Rundell said. “This will be great motivation for our seniors in the sense that if they want more games, they have to make a deep run into the playoffs.”
This will continue to be a fluid situation as school districts continue to monitor their response to the pandemic and determine whether in person learning and workouts are safe and viable options. Coaches and players have had to be flexible throughout 2020 and, as our state and country continue to respond to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, that adaptability and resiliency will continue to be two traits required of every program across the state.