Guidelines are stringent, restrictions are in place, and proper hygiene and social distancing are still recommended as the COVID-19 pandemic lingers. But the sounds of practicing student-athletes could again echo from local fields and gyms soon.
More than two months after high school sports were halted, the University Interscholastic League said Friday that schools have the option to bring in athletes starting June 8 for limited summer strength and conditioning workout programs and sport-specific instruction — one step toward making up for time lost because of the coronavirus.
“We are cautiously optimistic about beginning summer strength and conditioning programs and marching band practices that safely allow students to get back to working with their coaches and directors in preparation for the 2020-2021 school year,” UIL Executive Director Dr. Charles Breithaupt said in a news release issued Friday, a few days after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott initiated Phase 2 of the state’s reopening and recovery plan.
Texas high school sports have been paused since March 13, when the UIL initially suspended sanctioned activities for two weeks. The situation snowballed from there, and what was left of the 2019-20 winter and spring seasons was officially canceled April 17 — a tough break for seniors hoping for one last hurrah and a setback for up-and-coming underclassmen, who haven’t had access to in-person instruction or school facilities while being encouraged through virtual means to stay active.
For now, the first day for fall practices for the 2020-21 season is Aug. 3.
“While we are eager to resume UIL activities, we must do so carefully, deliberately and with an understanding that major adjustments are needed to ensure safety,” Breithaupt continued. “The requirements outline an approach designed to help schools mitigate risk while ensuring students are physically prepared to return to activities in the fall, should state and federal guidelines allow.”
The UIL made it a point to clarify that the summer programs are not required and should be considered voluntary, and “schools should take their local context into account when deciding whether to offer summer strength and conditioning on campus by monitoring the situation on the Texas Department of State Health Services dashboard.”
The “UIL will continue to work with state officials and monitor CDC and other federal guidance to determine any potential modifications,” the governing body said on its website.
Some of the many summer athletic workout and instruction requirements set forth Friday by the UIL include:
- No access to locker rooms or shower facilities;
- Clothes, towels, water and food can’t be shared;
- Schools must have hand sanitizer or hand-washing stations available, and all surfaces must be disinfected during and after sessions;
- There must be at least one staff member per 20 participants;
- For sport-specific outdoor activities, groups should be limited to 15 or fewer and remain acceptable distances from other groups;
- For sport-specific indoor activities, groups should be 10 or fewer;
- Indoor facilities, such as weight rooms, can operate at 25 percent of capacity;
- No competitive drills allowed (team vs. team; player vs. player);
- Strength and conditioning sessions shall be no more than 2 consecutive hours per day, Monday through Friday, and can’t include sport-specific skills or equipment;
- Sport-specific sessions are allowed and limited to 90 minutes per day with no more than 60 minutes in a given sport, Monday through Friday.
The UIL also said schools should consider prescreening all students prior to summer workouts, suggesting that could be done by phone, in writing or in person, and, if possible, taking temperatures daily.
A full list of the UIL’s requirements can be found on its website, uiltexas.org.
Belton ISD athletic director Sam Skidmore said Friday that the district will closely study the UIL’s lengthy guidelines and use those to formulate a specific plan for Belton High and Lake Belton.
“The main thing is we are going to evaluate the information we’ve been given. The UIL provided a lot of guidance. When we do return there will be some policy and procedures we’ll follow for the safety of everybody,” Skidmore said. “We’ll be working with our administration team and student services and custodians to make sure we have a protocol in place. And we will follow all the guidelines to a T.”