SACHSE EMPTY STADIUM

High school athletics facilities all across the state have been locked down due to the outbreak of COVID-19 coronavirus.

The entire world is under a state of emergency due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

The pandemic has had a massive global impact that has also trickled down to affect every reach of life, including high school athletics.

It was business as usual as recently as last Thursday, as the state basketball tournament tipped off and several other soccer, softball and baseball teams continued their seasons.

The landscape for sports at every level began to change during the course of that day and the last week has featured a whirlwind of events that has left local athletes on the sideline for the foreseeable future.

The University Interscholastic League has announced there will be no extracurricular activities until at least Mar. 29 and many school districts have postponed school until at least Apr. 3.

This is a fluid situation that has changed on a daily, if not hourly basis.

This week, the Star Local Media sports staff sat down to address just a few of the hundreds of questions that have arisen during the last week.

1. When did you first realize the severity of the situation?

Matt Welch: It was around early afternoon on Mar. 11 when the Golden State Warriors and Brooklyn Nets announced that their scheduled NBA game the following night would take place in an empty arena — the first of many escalating measures taken in response to coronavirus. Of course, that game never took course as later in the night, following Rudy Gobert’s positive test for COVID-19, the NBA suspended its season.

Even before that mandate was passed down, my antenna went up as to how high school sports would be impacted, particularly with the state boys basketball tournament being scheduled on Mar. 12.

As professional leagues followed the NBA’s lead, as well as the NCAA, it was only a matter of time before this matter took its toll on the high school sports schedule.

Chris Jackson: Last Wednesday night was when it hit me. I was at the Mavericks game and then saw the endless notifications that popped up. I saw that the Thunder-Jazz game was being cleared out and that Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus. Two minutes later the notification popped up that the NBA season was suspended, which is when I looked down to the court and saw Mark Cuban's reaction. That's when I realized like, 'Hey, this is a really serious situation.' Next thing you know the NCAA Tournament was canceled less than 24 hours later.

2. Did local school districts handle the situation correctly?

Devin Hasson: I’ve seen a handful of complaints that school districts reacted too slowly, but I think it is important to remember how quickly the pandemic escalated and how nobody has seen this before. Considering that many districts were on Spring Break and had personnel out of town, administrative leaders quickly collaborated and made the right call. As the situation has worsened, they have responded in step by extending their initial decision with the health and safety of all parties involved at the heart of their call.

Bryan Murphy: They simply had no choice, and with such a sensitive situation, it is always better to be safe than sorry.

With thousands of students and staff at nearly every public school in the D-FW, shutting down campuses and essentially extending spring break was unavoidable.

3. What are your thoughts on playing games with limited or no attendance?

Matt Welch: Provided enough positive momentum has been made across the country in combatting the spread of the virus, high school games without spectators may be the best initial course of action if teams are hopeful to finish out their seasons.

The UIL has already shown a willingness to limit the attendance for games if necessary, and while keeping the numbers down to avoid a large crowd at a particular venue can be tough in sports like track and field, I’d be all for any measure that allows the student-athletes to finish out their seasons — assuming there’s enough data and medical information to where teams could proceed without any concern for sickness.

Bryan Murphy: It’s better than a world with no sports at all.

Just last week I believed that this would be the last resort or worst-case scenario for high school athletics across the state before things quickly progressed in a matter of days at the start of the boys basketball state championships in San Antonio.

If playing games with limited or no attendance is what it takes to have the spring sports finish out their respective seasons then I am all aboard.

4. Will high school sports return this spring?

Devin Hasson: Yes. It will not be conventional, but there has been a huge outpouring from coaches, and especially, players imploring to have a chance to finish their seasons, or in some cases, their high school careers. I believe the UIL is listening and will do whatever it takes to make that happen.

There will likely be shortening of district seasons, accelerated playoff schedules and perhaps changes of venue, but I do believe all parties involved will find a way to provide some closure to the 2019-2020 athletics year.

Matt Welch: I hate to go with a cop-out, but given the speed at which this story has evolved, there just isn’t enough information available to give any sort of tangible guess as to where the finish line is. For as many as people who hope that a moderate suspension of a few weeks leads to a return to sports normalcy, there are just as many reading the tea leaves and feeling like there’s a realistic possibility that the last games of the high school schedule were played last week.

Consider that last Thursday, school districts issued a suspension of all athletics until March 20. The following day, the UIL extended that timetable until March 29. And on Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that all events of at least 50 people scheduled for the next eight weeks be postponed or cancelled.

That all happened over the course of essentially 72 hours.

The reality is we have no clue if the spread of coronavirus has even reached its fever pitch or how long until it’s subsided to a point where even leagues like the NBA, NHL or MLB would feel comfortable resuming their operations. 

It puts high school teams in a bind, no doubt, but with each passing day it feels like student-athletes, coaches and fans need to brace for the worst.

Bryan Murphy: This is the million dollar question, and as of now, UIL-sanctioned contests are suspended until April 6.

I don’t believe that set date will hold and in the coming days I will not be surprised if it gets extended well into April while the UIL and TAPPS committees attempt to save the end-of-school-year sports seasons.

As of now, I think high school sports will return, and we very well may see the soccer playoffs dip deep into the month of May or June and the same with softball and baseball. That is also the optimist in me hoping sports return for not just my sake, but for the sake of the athletes.

It pains me to think about the high school seniors who unknowingly played in their final game or practiced for the last time weeks ago with the expectation of one last magical playoff ride on their minds.

Chris Jackson: If you would have asked me late last week, I would have said yes. I now think the answer is unlikely. News keeps filtering in every few minutes. I just saw my county back home, Alameda County, issued a shelter in place for the next three weeks, so that makes me think the likelihood of any more games is slim to none. 

For continued coverage on the local sports scene, follow Devin Hasson on Twitter: @DevinHasson

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