SAN ANTONIO – On April 17, as Texas high school student-athletes were still sheltering in place due to the coronavirus pandemic, both the UIL and TAPPS cancelled the remainder of the spring sports season. The immediate future of high school athletics was in limbo as it wasn’t announced until late May the date schools would be able to resume summer workouts and the precautions coaches and staff would need to take up. June 8 was the first day UIL member schools could hold summer workouts with TAPPS affiliated schools beginning the week prior and all schools would need to implement several protocols in order to return to play safely.
First year Steele head football coach, David Saenz Jr., said that fall sports are depending on summer strength and conditioning sessions to operate smoothly.
“The main thing is we want to get them back out here, get them acclimatized back to, you know, the heat, get them out of the house a little bit,” Saenz said. “But again, our number one priority is the health and safety of every individual that is on our campus.”
Stipulations for summer workouts include social distancing 10 feet while active and six feet while at rest in addition to disinfecting equipment. The UIL recommends student-athletes wear masks while at rest and each member of the Johnson football workout program could be seen wearing masks, pulled down during drills and pulled up between reps.
“It’s definitely a lot of requirements, a lot of different things you got to manage, but just to get them out here is important for us, so we’re able to do it and we want to do it,” said Johnson head football coach, Mark Soto.
Locker rooms and water fountains are currently off-limits, with students needing to bring personal gallon bottles or containers. It’s also recommended that schools screen their student-athletes for COVID-19 symptoms on paper or with temperature checks at the start of every week of summer workouts, with students self-screening daily.
Steele senior defensive end, Caleb Lewis, said that the first few days of the new routine have gone smoothly.
“Every morning we got to sign like a sheet and make sure we’re not coughing,” Lewis said. “We have to have our parents sign off on it and then we sign it and turn it in each morning. It’s all a process but we all, I think we all have it down.”
For sport-specific activities, students must be placed in groups of 15 students or less - 10 students for indoor activities. Some schools have also opted to have their conditioning groups placed into “work groups.” In the event an athlete returns a positive COVID-19 test, the entire conditioning program doesn’t shut down – only members of that group must self-quarantine.
Ron Rittimann, who was named the Alamo Heights head football coach and athletic director in February, said the district’s student athletes have been learning the ‘right way’ to condition this offseason.
“You’ll see a coach working in groups of 15 will be the largest group, they’ll stay with them so that we don’t have to worry about the contamination or having to wipe things down after every group because they’re not going to rotate,” Rittimann said.
These protocols have made the players feel safe to return and many are just grateful to be back on the field. Antonian senior right tackle, Mariano Torres, said the coaching staff has been understandably strict with its precautions.
“At first you might be a little bit hesitant to come out and be in large groups again, but you come over here and you just feel very safe,” he said. “I mean there’s a lot of precautions and they’re doing everything that they possibly can to make sure that we are 100 percent safe.”