Some questions were answered and some more were raised when the UIL recently released its plan for athletic activities going forward into the 2020-21 school year.
Answered is the fact that high school sports in Texas will be played, meaning Kerrville Tivy will take the field in football, court in volleyball and team tennis, and the course for cross country.
Questions raised include how to safely proceed, how to revise previously set schedules, and how to adjust for a timetable change – among a few of the ripple affects that arose from the decision announced by the state’s agency that governs public school competitions for athletics and academics.
“We’re thrilled we have an opportunity to compete, and obviously there is a lot of work to rearrange some things. We knew there would be some changes, and we will make plans accordingly,” said KISD Athletic Director, and Tivy head football coach David Jones.
One of those changes is that start dates for Texas’ two largest classifications of schools (5-6A) will differ from 4A and below. Traditionally, all classes usually begin gearing up on the first Monday in August. Tivy, which falls into the 5A category, has been pushed back until Sept. 7 for football, and volleyball. The first kickoff can happen Sept. 24 while the first serve for the Lady Antlers can happen Sept. 14. Cross country and team tennis can also begin competitions on the same date as volleyball.
Reasoning behind the two-fold plan was in response that COVID-19 has impacted larger urban communities more severely and districts in those locales have had to wrestle with the virus in greater capacity than the smaller classifications that are more distanced.
“Our goal in releasing this plan is to provide a path forward for Texas students and schools. While understanding situations change and there will likely be interruptions that will require flexibility and patience, we are hopeful this plan allows students to participate in the education-based activities they love in a way that prioritizes safety and mitigates risk of COVID-19 spread,” said UIL’s executive director Dr. Charles Breithaupt, as part of the organization’s press release.
“These adjustments reflect the public health situation at this time and the varying numbers of COVID-19 cases across different geographic areas of the state. This plan provides a delay for schools in highly populated metro areas, primarily conferences 5A-6A, given the challenges with COVID-19 those communities are facing, while providing schools in other areas, primarily 1A-4A, an opportunity to start seasons on schedule,” the UIL said in its statement.
“Acknowledging the situation is not always clear-cut and that COVID-19 affects every community differently, the plan also allows for local flexibility and encourages districts to plan for possible interruptions in order to complete district seasons.”
“We lost some time with the offseason programs in the spring when things were shutdown, so the change means we will now extend the summer workout program, modify it some, and prepare,” said Jones.
UIL’s decision to split classification start dates also means that changes came to Tivy’s original football schedule. Playoffs will also begin later for 5A-6A, and state title games in those classifications will be held after December.
“We’ve lost a few games, changed things, and we’re settling on a nine-game schedule at this time,” Jones said.
The Antlers scrapped rival Fredericksburg and Austin McCallum from nondistrict play. Tivy will face Dripping Springs, Calallen, Killeen Shoemaker, and Seguin prior to 15-5A action. A planned scrimmage with Class 4A Boerne High has also been cancelled, and South San will provide the only tuneup for the Antlers prior to bonafide games.
“We have plenty of challenges, and there will be two open dates on the district schedule to compensate some things in case we need to, but the intention is to play a full compliment of district games,” Jones said.
Concerning subvarsity contests, Tivy is planning as full a schedule as possible with eight JV and freshmen games. Peterson Middle School also has plans to play this fall.
And should the district plate get cleaned, potential playoffs beckon and in light of COVID affects throughout Texas, that might create problems with neutral site venues.
“I could see some places being hesitant on hosting playoff games between teams and fans from different communities. It’s a whole new animal, but we’re just getting started and have other things to think about,” said Jones.
“Perhaps the toughest challenge will be to keep the kids moving forward safely with so many distractions, and by pushing things back five weeks you now have other sports that are just as important being impacted,” said Jones. Due to date switching, basketball’s startup will be later as well, as is probable for other athletic activities.
The delayed start pushes back 5A and 6A football state championships to Jan. 11-16. Large-school state championships for team tennis are now slated for Nov. 11-12, for cross country Dec. 5 and volleyball Dec. 11-12, and all fall seasons will impede on the start of basketball which will affect some athletes from those sports who play basketball.
The UIL halted all sanctioned activities March 13 at the onset of the pandemic, which took a big bite out of Tivy’s track and field season, and now head Lady Antlers coach Kevin Pope, who also heads up the cross country program, is glad his fall sport can go forward.
“I’m just glad we’re going to get to have a season at all even though it’s going to be a scramble to fill out the schedule because of the limitations on number of teams. We will be limited on how many divisions per meet, but at this point at least we get to have a season and can deal with issues. Everybody is in the same boat, schedule-wise,” Pope said.
One of the provisions UIL has for cross country is that meets will limited to no more than eight total schools, and have only one level of competition. As an example, varsity and JV runners will have to race together, otherwise the JV racers are not allowed on site until varsity athletes have left the area.
Tivy will begin prepping in full starting Aug. 17.
”Since the district meet has been moved back, we will actually work backwards from district to set the rest of the schedule,” said Pope.
“I’m excited and blessed that our kids will have a season and be able to compete,” said Tivy head volleyball coach Stephanie Coates.
“We can start playing in six weeks. A lot can change in six weeks, but if everything goes according to the plan, we will basically just shift our schedule two weeks back,” said Tivy tennis coach Kirk Kniffen.
In addition to plan details for practice and game dates, the UIL also reiterated health and safety protocols necessary to mitigate the spread of the virus, including regular screenings and mask requirements while not exercising, and the press release said that schools may allow fans up to 50 percent capacity. Those fans must follow all guidelines, including social distancing.
More information can be found on the UIL website at .uiltexas.org.