LA VERNIA, Texas – High school football under the lights on a Friday night. Is there anything more Texan than that? But this year, things are going to be different. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, school districts are having to take extra precautions to protect the players, coaches, staff and fans who hope to enjoy this weekly tradition.
Earlier this year, the University Interscholastic League (UIL) adjusted the calendar for the start of football after the state saw a rise in COVID-19 cases. Schools in Class 6A and 5A will be allowed to begin workouts on Tuesday, Sept. 7. They will be able to play their first games on Sept. 24.
Schools in Class 4A and lower can start playing this weekend.
La Vernia ISD Director of Safety and Security Michael Duffek said the UIL has provided guidance on what districts can do.
“UIL came up with a plan giving us a lot of guidance on how they want the entry processes, how they want us to exit the stadium capacity, the sideline usage,” Duffek said. “There’s only a certain amount people that are going to be on the sidelines. It’s minimal interaction with the players and the cheerleaders as much as possible. They really have provided a lot of guidance in getting us going. We’re just grateful that they’re letting us play football. We’re really happy.”
Duffek said fans will have to go through a screening process before entering the stadium. He said fans will have their temperatures taken and will have to answer screening questions before being allowed to go to the entry gate. He said tall tickets are being sold online, so there is no contact with the staff, and seating capacity in stadiums is limited to 50%.
“We’ve blocked off every other row and then we’ve broken it up into sections,” Duffek said. “UIL does state that a group of 10 can be together or if they came in a car together. We have sections where it’s a group of 10. Then, we kind of did a little bit more with a group of four with the separation. Then, groups of two. We’re kind of doing the seating that way as far as the stadium’s concerned and in the stands, but every other row is blocked off. We give six feet from upward and sideways and just try and keep them separate as much as possible.”
Fans can still enjoy concessions, but everything will be sealed. Duffek said those are big fundraisers for the booster club, so it is nice to have them around.
As far as on the field, UIL has extended the player’s box to run from the 10-yard-line to the 10-yard-line. This will allow for better spacing for the players. Cheerleaders will be allowed on the sidelines and will be wearing masks if they are not able to be socially distant. The band will be in the stands but will be distant from each other.
Shannon Rowlings showed up to the first game of the season to support her son who is a senior in the marching band. She was excited to see the support from her fellow neighbors.
“It’s good to see everybody out. It’s good to see the community out,” she said
Chamberlyn Casarez is a sophomore at La Vernia High School. She and her group of friends were excited to be reunited.
“I’m just glad we get to see everyone and be able to talk to friends and not just be home online,” Casarez said.
Jack Cunningham agreed and said he is just happy he can cheer for his favorite team.
“It just feels good to be here back in the stands to show support for our team and our school,” said Cunningham.
Duffek said the athletic director has been in contact with the opposing teams to let them know of the protocols in place when fans from the visiting communities arrive.
“We don’t want to be in a position where we’re trying to push people away,” Duffek said. “We don’t want them to drive all the way La Vernia and say, ’Hey, we don’t want a seat for you.’”
Duffek said the goal is to try and keep things as normal as possible.
“We still want to have Friday night football,” Duffek said. “Some things are difficult, but let’s go. We need it back.”
It’s the last Friday in August, and football is back in Texas!