Bears, Mustangs anxious for season, guidelines
AUSTIN — Everything is getting “amped” up and ready to roll at Little Cypress-Mauriceville and West Orange-Stark after the University Interscholastic League gave them the “green light” to start practice next week.
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.
“The kids are so excited and so is the coaching staff,” said LC-M AD and head football coach Randy Crouch. “We’ve had a great turnout over the summer and the kids have adjusted well to all of the health guidelines and protocols. It’s a little more like normal but we all know that we’re facing so many challenges ahead in keeping everyone healthy. I really want to say thank you to Charles Breithaupt, Jamey Harrison and Susan Elsa at the UIL for giving us the opportunity to have a season.”
Everyone is “giddy” but cautious over at WO-S.
“It brings a little excitement for sure, because as of right now, we’re going to get to play some football and the kids are excited,” said WO-S AD and head football coach Cornel Thompson. “The kids have done pretty darn good wearing their masks and social distancing. We do our best to monitor the entire situation when they’re here working out, but when school opens up, a lot more kids are going to be around one another. Our administrators are doing a good job in preparing all of the schools and hopefully we can keep all of the kids healthy, along with teachers and staff. It’s a whole ‘wait-and-see’ type of deal but as of know, we’re going full-steam ahead starting Monday.”
Crouch remains upbeat but remains cautious, like so many coaches across the state.
“What is going to be interesting is when school starts and the student population returns,” said Crouch. “During the summer, the groups are better contained. It’s easier to deal with a little over 100 kids, but when school starts, it’s a new huge deal, you’re talking about 3,000 kids or so in our district. That’s a lot of people going in and out and I think that’s when we’ll all get a bigger picture. Our superintendent Mrs. (Stacey) Brister and the administration team has been doing a super job since March and have been working so hard at getting everything lined up so kids can come back to school. Hats off to all of them.”
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.
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.
“I feel for those bigger classifications but who knows what the overall big picture will be when September rolls around,” said Crouch. “During all of this, we’ve learned something for sure and that’s taking every day for what it is. Be thankful for everything you get in. The kids realize that more and more.”
“I was really surprised because I really thought we would be in the same shoes as those 5A and 6A schools and starting in September, or possibly just start things up around when district starts,” said Thompson. “Hopefully we can make it through any type of major outbreak and get the kids out on the field. Every day is a new day, you just have to be positive and try to move on as close to normal as possible”
Scheduling has been an issue as well. LC-M saw its game with Katy Jordan (Sept. 11) wiped out and the Bears are still awaiting confirmation whether or not they will be able to play private school Houston Kinkaid (Sept. 25).
“Seems like all of us coaches or doing some shuffling around,” said Crouch. “We have added Carthage, who has won three of the last four Class 4A Division I State Championships, and they are coming to our place Sept. 11.”
WO-S’ opener against Nederland has been canceled as well as the Mustangs are seeking a game.
“We’ve been talking with Waco LaVega for awhile and hopefully something can be worked out with a possible neutral site, we’ll just have to wait and see.”
Neither the Bears or Mustangs, like the rest of the state, can have an opening scrimmage. LC-M will face Bridge City in a scrimmage Aug. 20 while WO-S will take on Vidor the same day.
Depth could play a huge role for every team, especially if they lose a few players due to getting a positive test or they are quarantining.
“Depth could be so key for everyone,” said Crouch. “Things could change weekly. Like what if you’re quarterback has to sit out? What if three varsity linemen can’t play one week? Your game plans can go out the window quickly. Instead of Plan A or Plan B, you might be going to Plan C and Plan D. There is also the question of kids that play on JV on Thursday night, can they play on Friday nights if you go to school the next day and you find out you can’t play a few varsity kids. There are so many questions, and it’s going to be a day-by-day thing for sure.”
“We are planning one of our biggest squads in awhile just for pure depth reasons,” said Thompson. “There will be plenty of kids suited out on Friday nights that we wished would still be playing on Thursdays so they can grow more and mature but with the sign of the times, we’re going to have to line them up in case we lose some key varsity players. It’s going to be one of those day-to-day and week-to-week things.”
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.
“That’s something we’re definitely going to have to tackle, and tackle soon,” said Crouch. “We’re having a district meeting this week to help answer some attendance questions. We have a volleyball match here at our place a week from Friday, so we need to get the ball rolling. First and foremost, you definitely want to take care of the parents first, not only from a football perspective but for all of the support teams as well, such as the band, drill team and cheerleaders. It’s going to get very interesting, especially for some schools that have really small stadiums.”
LC-M’s Battlin’ Bear Stadium seats 5,500 people, half capacity would be 2,750.
Hooks Stadium at WO-S is one of the area’s largest stadiums that can hold 8,300 people, half-capacity would be 4,150.
“We are a little more fortunate than some and you have to feel for the folks like at Orangefield, Hamshire and Hardin-Jefferson,” said Thompson. “First and foremost, we want to make sure that the parents of the football kids, band, drill team and cheerleaders get dibs at tickets first. We’re having a district meeting soon to iron out some of the logistics. I could possibly see not having bands and drill teams for away games. I would hate to see that, but it could happen.”
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:
- 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.
- Spectators, audiences, fans and media are required to wear face coverings as described in Executive Order GA-29.
- 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.
- If possible, set reserved times for entry to avoid mass arrivals.
- 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.
- Schools should not allow seating in consecutive rows, and should block off seating to maintain a minimum six feet of distance between groups.
- Pathways for spectator ingress and egress should be clearly marked and unobstructed.
- Schools should provide hand sanitizing stations and/or hand washing stations at entrances and inside the facility.
- Seating, hand rails, and other common surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected prior to each game or contest.
- Press Box seating should include social distancing of at least six feet between individuals when possible.
- Schools should limit access to working media providing coverage of the event to ensure protocols are followed.
- 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.