SAN ANTONIO – The high school sports landscape has been changing practically every day since the coronavirus pandemic began back in March. This week, San Antonio-area schools and student-athletes face perhaps their biggest test as the football season prepares to begin.
Before teams officially kick off their seasons this Friday night (find all our coverage on the Big Game Coverage page), here’s a list of the top five things fans in the San Antonio area need to know:
1. SMALLER SCHOOLS KICK OFF FIRST
This week’s opening festivities will not include traditional high school football powers like Judson, O’Connor, Madison and Wagner.
Instead, only teams from schools designated below Class 5A (i.e. schools with less than 1,230 students enrolled) will begin their seasons on Friday night. Class 5A and Class 6A teams will start their seasons roughly one month from now on Sept. 24.
On July 21, the University Interscholastic League (UIL) announced that they would stagger dates for the start of all the high school sports seasons by school size. In a way, the smaller schools are being used as a “test balloon” to protect schools in larger metro areas with higher attendance -- like downtown San Antonio -- and give every team a better opportunity to play the majority of their seasons.
For more information on the important dates for football, volleyball, cross country and tennis, click here.
2. SCHEDULES CAN CHANGE
If there’s one word that football teams across the state of Texas have learned over the past three months, it’s adaptability.
Practice schedules have fluctuated almost daily, mirroring the ebb and flow of the coronavirus pandemic at a state level, and teams will have to prepare for the same inconsistencies and sudden changes throughout their respective seasons, even if it means rescheduling or canceling games.
Multiple teams in the greater San Antonio area have been faced with that dilemma already. Pleasanton missed nearly two full weeks of practice due to a member of the program testing positive for the virus, and on Tuesday night, Kenedy became the first high school to officially cancel its season-opener against Karnes City on the same week as game day due to an increase in COVID-19 cases.
Unfortunately, that possibility exists for every team this year, and they will need to adjust on the fly to ensure that student-athletes get as much competition on the field as possible. The UIL is hoping that an increased focus on regionalized schedules will give teams some much-needed malleability in determining game dates and opponents, and ensure that teams complete intra-district competition.
Karnes City has already benefitted from this concept. After Kenedy was forced to cancel their game, the Badgers contacted another local football program who had lost a season-opener, the Marion Bulldogs. As a result, both programs will now face each other and have a chance to play their first games of the season on Friday night under safe circumstances.
3. SOCIAL DISTANCING WILL BE ENFORCED DURING GAMES
The biggest question looming over high school sports this season is how student-athletes will remain safe from the virus while participating in contact sports. It’s tough enough for teams to maintain their own “bubbles” with proper sanitization methods and social distancing in their isolated facilities, but playing a sanctioned game against another team from a different city presents a significant dilemma.
This Monday, the UIL recently handed down a brand-new set of guidelines for teams to follow on game day in order to better protect student-athletes. Home teams will be in charge of disinfecting all facilities prior to their opponents’ arrival and providing separate, designated entryways for opposing teams to remain isolated from unnecessary contact. All pre-game interactions will be limited to a small number of players and officials, and any student-based groups (i.e. bands and cheerleaders) on hand will be restricted to their own specific areas. The goal is simple: limit off-the-field contact as much as possible to limit any additional exposure to the virus.
For a more detailed breakdown of these recently released guidelines, click here.
4. FANS CAN ATTEND
While the priority will be on keeping student-athletes safe, parents and fans will also be allowed to attend games this fall. The UIL decreed that attendees must wear masks, maintain at least six feet of social distancing in the stands and refrain from contact with any student-athletes during the game. Ultimately, it’s up to each individual school to set limits on the number of people allowed to attend a game, and those numbers will likely fluctuate based on the size of the stadium.
If fans choose to stay home instead of physically going to the game, they will still likely have the option to watch their favorite teams remotely. The UIL has lifted their ban on broadcasting high school football games for the first time, which allows teams to televise or live stream their games. UIL officials have clarified that this will be a one-time venture, and the quality and availability of streaming equipment will vary from team to team, but the mere presence of the possibility is a welcome one during these turbulent times.
5. ATHLETES WANT TO PLAY
It’s easy to get lost in the minutia of restrictions and regulations and wonder whether this season will go off without a hitch. The coronavirus remains the primary source of drama and doubt in sports throughout the country. Student-athletes’ safety will always be the No. 1 concern for schools, and any player who opts out of the season out of concern for their family’s safety and well-being should not face any kind of social stigma.
With that in mind, student-athletes throughout the greater San Antonio area have been adamant that they want to play this season. For high school kids, this may be their only chance to shine. Roughly 5.8% of high school football players will continue their careers in college. Only 0.9% of high school seniors will make it onto an NFL roster. For better or worse, this is plenty of kids’ moment to make a lasting memory in the sport that they love, to play with friends in front of communities that they have spent their lifetimes with.
Those legacies are what make this season worth the risk for so many, regardless of the final outcome. Those are the hopes and dreams that every team will carry when they take the field for the first time this Friday night for the start of the 2020 season.
WATCH: BIG GAME COVERAGE PREVIEW FOR WEEK 1 OF 2020 SEASON
Over the past several weeks, the KSAT 12 Sports team has visited football programs across the greater San Antonio area to get their perspectives on the day-to-day challenges presented by the pandemic. Here’s a list of some the teams featured: