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High school football in the age of COVID-19: What game day will look like this Friday

UIL releases new protocols in advance of football's opening night

SAN ANTONIO – With the coronavirus pandemic still looming large, athletes across the state of Texas have been eager to hit the practice fields and regain a sense of normalcy. Most, if not all, have spent the past three months adapting to the UIL’s constantly fluctuating “risk management” guidelines in order to ensure they have a season this fall. A number of teams -- like Pleasanton and Navarro -- have dealt with their own respective COVID-19 outbreaks, forcing drastic changes to an already shortened, regionalized schedule.

This week, all of their preparation, both on and off the field, will be put to the test.

High school football officially kicks off this Friday with Class 4A-1A teams taking the field one full month before the larger schools in Class 5A and 6A do the same. On Monday morning, the University Interscholastic League released additional game-day guidelines for teams to abide by. Here’s what local fans and family can expect to see if they choose to attend any games on opening night.

EXTENDED TEAM BOXES

Since each individual football team requires well over ten people just to function normally, the UIL is allowing teams to expand their designated area, or box, to the 10-yard lines in order to encourage social distancing during games. This is not a strict policy across the state, but it can be enforced at a district level if necessary. Only players and coaches will be allowed to stand in the box. Enforcement of this policy is each team’s responsibility. No specific guidelines have been set on how student-athletes will social distance, simply that they must.

PRE-GAME DISINFECTION

All teams will be required to wear masks as they enter stadium premises prior to game time. The host team will be responsible for properly cleaning and disinfecting all locker rooms and loading/unloading zones before their opponent arrives. The visiting team will assume those duties for their designated facilities once they have unloaded all of their equipment. Access to all facilities will be limited to essential student-athletes and staff members.

Every attendee must be screened appropriately and cleared before they are allowed to enter the premises. Local schools have already had a chance to test pre-game screenings during the start of the high school volleyball season. At a match between Lytle and Bandera on Aug 14, attendees were required to have their temperature taken by automatic sensors placed at the entrance to the gymnasium. Fans can expect similar situations, manual or otherwise, for attending football games.

RELATED: How San Antonio area volleyball teams have adapted to shifting schedules and guidelines during COVID-19

Additionally, any and all pre-game ceremonies, including conferences between the head coaches and officials and the coin toss, must abide by social distancing guidelines. Nothing specific was mentioned in regards to team introductions.

ATTENDEE RESTRICTIONS

Spectators will be required to maintain at least six feet of social distancing when sitting in bleachers, stands or in walkways, and should remain a minimum of six feet away from contact with any designated team area. Masks will be required to ensure that a physical barrier to transmission of the coronavirus exists. No specific guidelines have been set forth in regards to the number of people allowed to attend. The host site will have the authority to determine how many attendees will be allowed on sit.

Student groups including marching bands, cheerleads and drill teams will be allowed to attend, but all must wear masks and avoid mixing with the teams and other attendees. Schools are also being asked to limit the groups’ access to the field.

ENTRY AND EXIT PLANS

The host site must plan to create a separate method of entry and exit on to the premises for officials, coaching staffs and student-athletes away from contact with non-essential participants and fans. Teams will also not be allowed to line up and shake each others’ hands after the game. Volleyball teams elected to wave at their opponents before and after the match.

STREAMING SERVICES

This season, the UIL has lifted its ban on live-streaming high school football games, providing an alternative for fans to stay home and support their local team. Boerne High School has already scheduled a live stream for their season opener against the Beeville Trojans.

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