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COVID-19 pandemic puts Texas high school football, fall sports in jeopardy

KSAT Explains Episode 7 dives into UIL decision to delay start of football, volleyball season for large districts

SAN ANTONIOEditor’s note: This content was created exclusively for KSAT Explains, a new, weekly streaming show that dives deep into the biggest issues facing San Antonio and South Texas. Watch past episodes here and download the free KSAT-TV app to stay up on the latest.

There’s nothing like the sights and sounds of Friday night football in Texas.

But like everything else in our state, the coronavirus pandemic has put the future of high school athletics this fall in jeopardy.

“I can’t remember in all my years of doing high school football, and that takes me all the way back to when I was 16 years old, first of all, the high school football season has never been delayed and now being being delayed due to a virus,” said KSAT Sports Director Greg Simmons.

Coaches are normally preparing for August camps to begin, but those practices will have to wait for the larger school classifications in Bexar County and across the state.

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The University Interscholastic League announced on July 21 that football and volleyball practices for 5A and 6A high schools would be delayed until Sept. 7.

The UIL said volleyball games or matches could start on Sept. 14 with football games starting Sept. 24.

However, the UIL said 1A to 4A schools could start their seasons on time. They will begin football practices on Aug. 3 and games Aug. 27.

There are a handful of schools in Bexar County that fall under the 4A category, but a directive from San Antonio Metro Health Department has stated there can be no extracurricular activities at public schools until after Labor Day. That’s added confusion to an already fluid situation.

“The biggest thing for me and for all of us is we just have to come to the realization that things are going to be different,” said Roosevelt head football coach Matt Carroll. “You make adjustments as you go. (We) talk to our kids all the time, you just adapt, improvise and overcome.”

WATCH EPISODE 7 NOW: BACK TO SCHOOL DURING A PANDEMIC

Workouts and conditioning camps over the summer helped coaches and players adjust to new health and safety protocols, but a spike in COVID-19 cases in many parts of Texas, including Bexar County, put those camps on hold.

Carroll said his coaches, players and other student-athletes did well adjusting to new safety protocols before summer camps were suspended.

“We understand what’s happening in our world, but just know we’re doing this in the safest way possible,” said Carroll. “I commend our kids on coming in and finding a way to try to take care of all those things and take it seriously.”

Carroll said coaches have missed out on important daily interactions with their players off the field, but understands why summer camps have been suspended.

“(The) opportunity to visit with kids to talk life problems and help with problem solving,” said Carroll. “School is so much bigger than pen and paper or in our regards, football, X’s and O’s.”

As part its COVID-19 risk mitigation plan, the UIL announced schools can allow spectators to attend games or events at a 50 percent maximum capacity.

Spectators must practice social distancing and anyone over 10 years old must wear a face covering in accordance with Gov. Greg Abbott’s state mandate.

The UIL has said they will monitor health and federal guidance to determine any potential changes need to be made.

“We have to be flexible with this. It has to be a sliding scale,” said Simmons. “These COVID cases still continue on through August and it’s going to have to be pushed back even further, perhaps even to the spring.”

For many local communities, high school football and athletics is a way of bringing the community and families together. Empty stadiums and no Friday night lights would be a strange sight.

“The one thing that you will find in San Antonio unlike other cities, when they ask you where you went to school, they don’t mean college, they mean high school,” said Simmons. “People are proud of where they went to high school. They enjoy watching the games.”

“I think athletics lie at the heart and soul of every community but we never want to be in a position where we put a sport above health and life,” said Carroll. “The UIL (and) the Texas High School Coaches Association has that in mind. We want to do these things, but everyone’s looking for our best interest to be safe.”

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