Football stadiums on Friday nights in towns across the great state of Texas are the home of one of the most revered institutions in history. Friday night football is as sacred as it gets. No matter whether it’s a small town in rural Texas or a Metroplex school district, the ritual is the same.
The question that looms over the horizon is whether the coronavirus pandemic will put a halt to this decades-long institution.
The University Interscholastic League (UIL) suspended all 2020 spring sports and activities on March 19. During the summer, there have been very restrictive and selective sports-related activities allowed by the UIL.
However, in late July, the UIL released the fall sports calendar for classes 1A-4A and a separate calendar for classes 5A and 6A.
The lower divisions were able to begin Aug. 3 with the traditional training and conditioning that leads to helmets (no pads), and then full pad practices, which culminate in one week of scrimmages Aug. 20-22.
Similarly, the 5A and 6A divisions were allowed to begin two hours per day of sport-specific training and conditioning Aug. 3 and follow a similar progression as the lower classes beginning Sept. 7, which will end with scrimmages Sept.17-19.
Week one of the regular season is scheduled to begin Aug. 27-29 for class 1A-4A and Sept. 24-26 for class 5A and 6A.
There is no doubt that players, coaches and support personnel will be pouring everything they have toward the success of the season.
The general consensus among coaches and administrators is that the UIL has put protocols in place and each school has added its own additional levels of safety protocols to make sure that all precautions are taken.
Mark Humble, head coach at Rock Hill High School in Prosper, noted that the Blue Hawks are following UIL protocols.
"The kids have been dialed in ever since the summer weight training and conditioning. It is part of the routine and with the players having been in school for the last three days the same procedures are being followed campus-wide," Humble said.
"Football and all of the fall sports brings the community together. Maybe this will help get everyone united on regaining something normal in their daily routine. The athletes thrive on the routine and structure."
Brandon Schmidt, head coach for the Prosper High School Eagles, was in agreement with the other area coaches as far as UIL protocols and moving forward toward the 2020 season.
"I’m confident that with the success Class 1A-4A schools have had so far in working within the protocols and getting things rolling, (it) is very encouraging for bigger schools who are starting a little later based on the UIL calendar," he said.
Schmidt is also in lockstep agreement with area coaches as far as the return to the normal routine of fall football being important for kids. "Structure, challenges, routines, discipline and socializing give the kids what they need the most. It’s what we are used to doing this time of the year."
Meanwhile, Melissa High School head football coach Matt Nally commented, "It’s difficult for sure. We have followed protocols and we are constantly cleaning. All of the coaching staff and players are taking ownership of doing things the right way. Keeping the kids safe is top priority.
"When we have staff meetings now they begin with COVID-19 protocols. Any other season, we would be talking schemes, personnel and other ordinary football process issues getting ready for the season. The idea of making sure we are on top of the COVID-19 issue is a priority. The main thing we are focusing on is to help the kids get back to normal. That includes socially, academically and athletically. It’s definitely different."
Things aren’t much different at Anna High School, where head football coach Jason Heath and his staff have the Coyotes in full swing preparing for the upcoming season.
According to Heath, "We are finding that the players and staff have all acclimated themselves to the protocols set forth by the UIL. Temperature checks, symptoms checks, mask usage, hand sanitizing and locker room sanitizing are all daily routines."
When asked about the possibility of the UIL following suit with the Power 5 schools that have canceled their season, he noted, "As long as the collegiate programs like the Big 12, SEC and ACC are still moving forward with the season, there is less chance that the UIL will change its mind on the 2020 season.
"The kids are much better off being a part of fall athletics and being around the environment it offers with direction, discipline and as much `new normal’ as is possible."
Anna, much like the other schools in the area, is eager to get started with the regular season. When asked about his team’s progress so far, Heath added, "We are working hard. The players are improving and getting locked in and ready to move forward."
Most noted is the abundance of communication between area head coaches and their staffs. Whether they have specifically spoken each other or not, it appears that the football programs from the area are locked in on doing the very best they can for their schools and their communities.