As public schools acclimate to the UIL’s suspension on interscholastic athletics until May 4, the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools is taking its own measures in hopes of completing its spring sports calendar.
With TAPPS athletics currently on hold until April 13 and schools closed until April 3, student-athletes and coaches are adapting to changes in their day-to-day routines in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. How long those alterations last remains to be seen, but the early returns have been productive for some.
“We’ve had to adjust quite a bit, but it’s been good. It’s allowed us to get more creative and high-tech,” said George Teague, John Paul II head football coach and athletics coordinator. “We’re doing a lot of stuff through social media and have a slogan of ‘High-Tech, High-Touch,’ which is what we’re vying for, meaning that we’re using our technology to keep in touch with our athletes during this time.”
With any in-person interaction between coaches and players prohibited, smart phones and social media have helped ease the time apart for plenty of teams — including some whose coaches and players haven’t seen one another for almost a month, depending on when their spring break took place.
For the athletics programs at John Paul, a platform like Twitter has been vital in things like disseminating workouts from the school’s head strength and sports performance coach Jermaine Love or coming up with what Teague called “challenges” as a means of keeping the student-athletes busy while at home. One example came from first-year head softball coach Jayme Baker-Nelson, who in an effort to make sure her team could practice hitting, drove to the homes of various players to drop off batting tees and hitting nets on their porches.
“We’re not allowed to work with them or be around them at all, but we can give direction to how to execute what they need to do to stay healthy and mentally well,” Teague said. “That’s really our focus. We know they’re used to listening to their coaching.”
Teague added that communication has taken on greater prominence throughout this process, given the emphasis on social distancing and the numerous county-wide stay-at-home orders issued in recent days.
All the while, coaches remained in regular contact with administrators as to how the state athletics bodies are approaching any possible resolution to the sports still in season. In addition to suspending all athletics through at least April 13, TAPPS outlined in a webinar on March 17 the measures being taken to complete their spring sports schedule.
During that presentation, TAPPS executive director Bryan Bunselmeyer listed three potential return-to-play options for its member schools — April 13, May 1 or May 15 — while also acknowledging that a cancellation of play for the rest of the school year is a possibility as well.
“Personally, I’m concerned — just because of the continuous cases of the coronavirus that keep coming up,” Teague said. “The first thing that we want to do is make sure we’re being safe and not getting anyone sick or hurt. We would love to get back into learning in the classroom and competing on the field, but that’s not where we’re at with JPII. Right now, I’d probably foresee this being pushed back into May and maybe even not being able to finish at all.”
TAPPS’ April 13 return option, referred to as “Opportunity A,” would afford teams one week of practice during April 13-18 before games resume on April 20. Certification for district placement in baseball and softball would take place the following week on April 27.
The windows condenses a bit if action gets pushed into May, with teams afforded a practice week from May 4-9 before returning to game action on May 11 — the first of three weeks that would include state championship events for five different sports: tennis and golf during the week of May 11-16, track and field during the week of May 18-23 and baseball and softball during the week of May 25-30.
TAPPS’ third return date, May 15, narrows that schedule to just three weeks with teams allowed to practice on May 18-23 followed by the state golf, tennis and track championships between May 25-30 and the baseball and softball state tournaments on tap for June 1-6.
“At this time, our goal is to provide championship opportunities for our member schools and students,” Bunselmeyer said, as TAPPS prepares to take unique measures in hopes of completing the remainder of its 2019-20 athletics regiment.
One other area impacted is spring football, as schools stand to lose a pivotal part of their offseason evaluation. Bunselmeyer said that TAPPS is leaning towards allowing spring practices if athletics have resumed by April 13 but noted that if the suspension carries into May that using pads or hitting equipment might not be an option.
“You’d be amazed at how many conversations I’ve had with both TAPPS and UIL schools as we’re trying to plan and figuring out what to do as we’re getting ready for the summer,” Teague said. “It could affect 7-on-7 and workout structures, depending on how long this goes. It’s a challenging moment for us.
“… As football coaches, depending on how they relax the rules, we might be able to make up some time in the summer. We’ll just take it one week at a time right now.”