As the sports landscape remains on hold during the coronavirus pandemic, area high school teams are hopeful they haven’t played their final games of the 2019-20 school year.
Amidst a chaotic week — one that local coaches and administrators can’t recall experiencing anything like during their careers — stateside high school sports have been put on hold until at least March 29, according to the UIL. For private schools under the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools umbrella, that suspension is in effect until April 12.
“It’s not even a week old yet. I remember just last Thursday we were playing Westlake and I got the call from my [athletic director] before I even stepped off the field that this was going to be our last game for a while,” said Paul Coe, Allen head baseball coach. “It’s still hard to wrap your head around it.”
For as fluid as the matter has been, so has the speed at which high schools around the state have handled their response as the pandemic’s scope seemingly grows by the day — from the UIL’s edict April 12 to halt the state boys basketball tournament, to school districts like Plano ISD and Allen ISD taking action later that afternoon and suspending all athletics for the following week, to the UIL’s decision on Friday to suspend all interscholastic activity until March 29.
On Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an advisement that all in-person events of 50 of more people schedule over the next eight weeks be cancelled or postponed.
While coaches and players around the state wait for the next domino to fall, they do so with feelings of both hope and uncertainty.
“I was pretty down myself because after all the hard work the guys have put in, we’re now left not really knowing what’s going to happen,” said Sam Garza, Marcus head boys soccer coach. “On Friday, we were supposed to have a training session and got the word about not having any organized activities. It’s tough, but it’s out on our control. The best thing I can do is give my guys a program that helps them stay fit while we just wait this out.”
The Marauders and the rest of Lewisville ISD are currently on spring break, but the school district has already suspended operations through April 3 and is bracing for the possibility of that timeframe being even longer. Plano ISD and Allen ISD remain closed until Friday before assessing their respective next steps.
In between, the three districts have closed off all facilities and suspended any on-site workouts and practices. During the suspension, any in-person contact between coaches and student-athletes is prohibited, tasking the players with finding ways to stay active on their own during the time off.
“I sent my leaders a group workout and told them to do something like get on FaceTime or find some way to be creative with it and hold each other accountable,” said Jessica Linson, Plano East head girls basketball coach. “I just want to touch base with them each day to make sure they’re OK. But at this level, you know the kids are getting outside work in.”
There’s a bit of a juggling act for those involved as well, with coaches currently in season hoping their players are able to stay in shape while acknowledging the safety measures being taken to subdue the spread of coronavirus.
“Safety is the No. 1 priority for me. If we do get a chance, I don’t want anyone getting sick, because if that happens then I know we won’t have a chance and our whole team might get quarantined,” Coe said. “Our facilities are closed, so we want them to find some place where they can stay in shape but understanding that, in the bigger picture, that’s not the most important thing in the world right now.”
That includes an emphasis on social distancing and self-quarantining.
“I think the biggest thing is getting people to shut down. Everyone wants to practice and make sure they’re ready, but they just can’t right now,” said Tom Ford, LISD athletic director. “Athletes always want to be athletic and it’s hard to do that in our current situation. Kids are getting together on their own, which is not good, and that’s a message that we’re trying to get out.”
It’s through that collective effort to subdue the virus that has teams hopeful that a finish line might be in sight. But given the way the matter has accelerated — consider that only 72 hours passed between PISD and AISD extending spring break and the CDC’s eight-week advisement — the possibility of high school sports facing a premature end to the 2019-20 school year is something that can’t be overlooked.
“I think that’s a realization for everyone involved, especially given how this thing has escalated,” said Steve Williams, AISD athletic director. “I would like to say it escalates daily, but it has been faster than that and there’s a possibility we don’t play at all. If so, that’s just what we’ll have to deal with. It’s the hand we were dealt.”