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Cards, Bobcats ready to hit the ground running with “green light”

AUSTIN — As of right now, it’s going to be “Play Ball” for all of the Orange County schools as the University Interscholastic League set new guidelines for the 2020-21 UIL season.

For Class 4A-and-under, the original schedule will be in place with the start of practices coming Monday, Aug. 3.

However, all Class 6A-5A schools will have to wait until Sept. 7 to start practice.

That means Orange County schools Bridge City, Little Cypress-Mauriceville, Orangefield and Vidor can all start football, volleyball and cross country workouts Aug. 3.

Volleyball matches start as early as Aug. 11 while the football regular seasons begin Aug. 28.

Coaches and athletes were excited in Bridge City and Orangefield for sure.

“It’s great for us, we’re pretty much business as usual,” said Bridge City AD and head football coach Allen DeShazo. “We’re losing our first scrimmage but none of the rest of our schedule changes at this point other than the Huffman game. They are working on their turf still, so that game could come here or we could go neutral somewhere, if possible.”

“The kids have been working hard throughout all of this and when the UIL said we were a go, the excitement on their faces were awesome,” said Orangefield AD and head football coach Josh Smalley. “We’re just losing that first scrimmage with LC-M but the rest of our schedule, as of now, is fine. It’s going to present a lot of challenges but I feel everyone is up for it.”

There will be plenty of schedule changes ahead for football and volleyball teams in the area due to playing schools in 6A-5A, a lot of them being scheduled against the likes of Nederland, Port Neches-Groves, Port Arthur Memorial, Beaumont West Brook and Beaumont United, plus several Houston schools.

“I know that split seems tough and I really feel for those 6A and 5A guys but the UIL decision didn’t really surprise me,” said DeShazo. “I can understand the situation because the virus is so much higher in your big metro city areas and not as bad in the rural areas. I know it had to be a tough, tough decision.”

“I truly feel for those 5A and 6A schools, especially with teams in our local area in Port Arthur and Beaumont because I know so many of those coaches over there,” said Smalley. “It’s all a balancing act right now and areas like Houston, Austin and Dallas are hotspots right now. I’m hoping they can get all of their games in too. Right now, all we know is we are preparing for the season ahead. It’s new to everyone and there will be a few bumps on the road along the way.”

The first day of practice for 6A-5A schools will be Sept. 7. The first volleyball matches will be played Sept. 14 and the first football games will be allowed Sept. 24.

School are continuing to abide by the health guidelines set by the UIL.

“The kids are just so thrilled to go full throttle again,” said DeShazo. “The mask think was tough at first, but now we barely have to remind them. Until this week, we made sure we stayed outside for a couple weeks and this week we feel a little more comfortable going to the weight room.”

Just as interesting will be the number of fans in attendance as the UIL has limited football stadiums and gyms to just 50 percent capacity as of now.

“It’s going to be interesting for sure, but the first people you want to take care of are the kids’ families, from the teams, to the bands, cheerleaders and drill teams,” said DeShazo. “So many stadiums are bigger than others. In some of your smaller stadiums, especially on some visitor’s sides, by the time you get your band and drill team in there, it’s half full already. There will be plenty of logistics involved.”

“It’s going to be an interesting deal because there are several small stadiums around the area and we definitely have one of the smallest,” said Smalley. “We want to make sure that the kids can get their families to the games, especially the seniors. Our visitors’ side is so small, by the time some schools can seat their bands and drill teams, it would be at 50 percent capacity already. It’s going to be an tough challenge to figure those type of things out, along with the safety precautions. The main thing through all this is keeping people safe. The kids are happy, the coaches are thrilled because there is a little normalcy to it but we also know it won’t be business as usual.”

Fans and parents should be prepared for smaller attendance at games with the following guidelines:

Schools may allow spectators to attend games, contests, or events within a maximum 50% capacity limitation, provided that appropriate spacing between spectators is maintained according to the protocol, and according to the following:

  1. Schools and/or host sites should post visible signs and/or messaging stating any individuals who are confirmed to have, suspected of having, are experiencing symptoms of, or have been in close contact with an individual who has been confirmed to have COVID-19 should not enter the facility.
  2. Spectators, audiences, fans and media are required to wear face coverings as described in Executive Order GA-29.
  3. Sites are encouraged to utilize remote ticketing options to help manage capacity limitations within a maximum 50% occupancy. Paper tickets and programming should be minimized to help avoid transferable materials.
  4. If possible, set reserved times for entry to avoid mass arrivals.
  5. Groups should maintain at least six feet of distance from other groups at all times, including the process of admission and seating. A group is defined as no more than 10 people including the members of the household and those persons who traveled together to the facility.
  6. Schools should not allow seating in consecutive rows, and should block off seating to maintain a minimum six feet of distance between groups.
  7. Pathways for spectator ingress and egress should be clearly marked and unobstructed.
  8. Schools should provide hand sanitizing stations and/or hand washing stations at entrances and inside the facility.
  9. Seating, hand rails, and other common surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected prior to each game or contest.
  10. Press Box seating should include social distancing of at least six feet between individuals when possible.
  11. Schools should limit access to working media providing coverage of the event to ensure protocols are followed.
  12. Post-game interviews should be conducted while wearing face coverings and maintaining at least six feet of distance between the interviewer and individual being interviewed.

The modifications to the 2020-2021 calendar differ by activity and conference and can be found on the UIL website and in the chart below. 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. 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.

Additionally, the COVID-19 risk mitigation guidelines for the 2020-2021 school year can be found at this link. This includes guidance around face coverings, general operations and protocol for individuals confirmed or exposed to COVID-19, congregate settings (band halls, locker rooms, etc.), practice and rehearsal activities, spectators and media, and concession stands and food service.

These guidelines are in addition to guidance issued by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and intended to be implemented along with TEA guidance, which applies to UIL academic activities and extracurricular non-UIL activities.

With the understanding that not all schools will be able to start at the same time, this plan allows for schools to make playing decisions at the local level, and the UIL will work directly with schools that have scheduling issues not addressed in this plan to allow them flexibility to complete as many contests as possible.

“Our goal in releasing this plan is to provide a path forward for Texas students and schools,” said UIL Executive Director Dr. Charles Breithaupt. “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.”

UIL will continue to work with state officials and monitor CDC and other federal guidance to determine any potential modifications that may become necessary.