Although this time of year is coined the season of thanks, that gratitude is months in the making for plenty of high school coaches and student-athletes around Texas.
With volleyball season winding down, football hitting its homestretch — in 5A and 6A, at least — and basketball starting up, there’s an added thanks for simply seeing another week of practice or getting to play another game.
Since June, high schools around the state have been adapting to circumstances without precedent, implementing and acclimating to new protocols for their everyday routines — all in hopes of keeping their athletes safe and able to play high school sports amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The efforts haven’t come without some hurdles, with myriad teams incurring postponements and cancellations to their respective schedules throughout the season.
But as football teams continue to make the most out of an unorthodox situation, the 2020 season has given those involved plenty to be thankful for.
I think back to the week of June 8, the first time high schools around the state could begin conducting offseason workouts during the pandemic, and making the rounds to various campuses to see how they were handling the new protocols put in place.
What immediately stood out was the attention to detail — things like Flower Mound moving its entire weight room into its indoor practice field to better space the workouts in adherence to social distancing. Or massive schools like Allen and Plano West designating separate entrance and exit points to deter any clutter or congestion among the litany of students in attendance throughout the day. Or Prestonwood Christian laying out 25-30 cones in the back of its end zone, all spaced at least 8 feet apart, to act as lockers where players could place waters and equipment and still be far enough away from their teammates.
Each school put their own unique twist on how to best suit the protocols for their students — something that required some fairly tireless legwork — so it’s hard not to be thankful that the schools that put so much into being able to conduct their offseasons are getting to see the fruits of their labor during the fall.
I’m admittedly leery of how the playoffs will go — there have already been numerous teams in the UIL’s smaller classifications that have had to bow out of the postseason for COVID-related reasons, but at no point during this year did I feel like these coaches didn’t have their kids’ best interests in mind.
Amid times of uncertainty, I’m thankful that these student-athletes have that kind of guidance and leadership to help them through a chapter in their lives that won’t be soon forgotten.
The pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of life in some way and high school sports have certainly not been immune to that.
One thing that crossed my mind during the spring, and has since been reinforced this fall is Senior Night.
Perhaps it is the fact that I now have children in my life who are involved in sports that has helped me to understand what that night means to families.
While we celebrate National Signing Day as one of the biggest of the year, the fact is that most athletes do not play beyond the high school level.
Senior Night, when not only the athlete is recognized, but also their families, represents the culmination of a true team effort.
As sportswriters, we celebrate the on-field achievements of these athletes, but it is important to remember everything that goes into putting them in a situation where they can succeed.
From a young age, there are countless practices, games, out-of-town tournaments, and parents make that happen — through driving back and forth across town, forking out extra money for new shoes, a better glove and uniforms, and providing unlimited support from the stands and at home.
Senior Night is an opportunity to not only recognize the athlete, but also their support system.
When the pandemic essentially wiped out the spring sports, that took away what was for many their last chance to play competitive sports, leaving kids and parents alike without a sense of closure.
When talking with several parents during the last few months whose kids were denied the opportunity to complete their high school careers, Senior Night was at the top of the list of things they missed most.
Over the course of the last month, I have had the chance to see a number of Senior Nights for volleyball and football players and given everything that we have had to endure recently, I am thankful that I had the opportunity to stand and applaud to recognize the collective efforts of those families and appreciate just what the night represents.
It was back in July when I spoke on the phone with Coppell head football coach Mike DeWitt, whose Cowboys had been allowed to hold in-person workouts for the first time in six weeks after a county health order had prevented all high school teams in Dallas County from being allowed into their respective team facilities.
The size of Coppell’s indoor practice allowed the Cowboys to maintain proper social distancing.
The team was spread into groups of three to limit the spread of the virus. All equipment was wiped down with sanitizing wipes after each use. That includes weight machines and footballs. Trash cans were spread 6 feet apart to represent lineman during the one hour per day allotted by the UIL for skills drills.
Although no tackling or blocking was permitted until September, DeWitt was happy to be on the field with his Cowboys.
The Colony head volleyball coach Rachel Buckley had a big smile when she saw her Lady Cougars in person in June. It was the first time that she had seen her team in person. She was hired by Lewisville ISD in April, the second month into the pandemic. But, she had only been able to meet with her team virtually until the UIL allowed team workouts to resume in June.
Buckley, as well as Lake Dallas head volleyball coach Kristinn Holbrooks, had their team managers wipe down volleyballs with sanitizer before, during and at the end of the practice and their players spread six feet apart as part of the COVID-19 protocols that had been put in place by the UIL.
As high school sports continue to be impacted by the pandemic, we should be thankful for all of the sacrifices that the athletes, coaches and school administrators have put in to ensure that their teams can have a season, and for their fans to be able to attend games in a safe environment.