Questions shaped by a perspective-altering pandemic hovered for three long, sometimes unnerving months.
Athletic directors, coaches and players wondered when they might be able to practice together again and how it would all work.
The guidelines issued two weeks ago by the University Interscholastic League provided the clarity on how. Monday answered the when as the moratorium — initially implemented March 13 because of the COVID-19 outbreak — on organized high school sports officially expired.
Some questions linger and might for the foreseeable future. However, for the first time since mid-March, area athletic facilities and fields not only were opened but occupied by eager, appreciative athletes and staff members.
Eager might be an understatement.
“I couldn’t sleep last night,” Temple athletic director and football head coach Scott Stewart said in between meetings Monday afternoon. “My initial feeling this morning was, after three months, when I put my hands on the steering wheel, I fully realized what I do for a living. I knew I was going to go help people. It’s about the relationships. It’s for the kids.”
So the hundreds of Temple ISD boys and girls — ranging from seventh- to 12th-graders — ready to participate bright and early on Day 1 of the district’s limited, voluntary summer strength and conditioning program certainly were sights to behold.
“The kids were ready to get back to work. We had great numbers and once we got out there, everything felt pretty normal. And I say normal in air quotes these days. But it was a familiar feeling and a welcome feeling,” Stewart said. “In lieu of everything that’s going on in the world right now, it was nice to get back to what we do.”
The UIL, which governs Texas public school athletics and officially canceled what was left of the 2019-20 sports seasons in April after about a month of holding out hope of some earlier resolution, announced May 22 it would give school districts the option of hosting the summer workouts — which are open to athletes in every sport — and unveiled lengthy recommendations on how to carry out the task while the pandemic persists.
Prior to participating, athletes had to go through health checks, and they will be regularly monitored as the summer moves along. Social distancing is highly encouraged, there are limitations on group size, prohibitions on sharing items such as water and towels, requirements such as hand sanitizing stations, and daily time constraints.
TAPPS, the governing body for the state’s private programs, gave its teams the green light for summer work June 1 under similar rules and regulations.
“Obviously, the logistics have just changed drastically with the mandates and stipulations and social distancing. I mean, the first thing I want to do is high-five somebody. But you can’t,” Stewart said. “Safety is paramount and we’re going to stay safe and acclimate back into this.”
Belton ISD athletic director Sam Skidmore said careful consideration of the UIL’s guidelines and a thorough planning process preceded Belton High and soon-to-be-opened Lake Belton’s first day of strength and conditioning.
“There was a lot of work done up front. We had multiple meetings,” Skidmore said. “There was a lot of excitement (Monday). The kids missed the coaches, and the coaches missed the kids. There was great work by the coaches at both schools, following the protocols, and the kids did a good job responding. It was just so great seeing the kids. It kind of lifts your heart up.”
Skidmore said he figured more than 900 Belton ISD athletes participated Monday, including a large turnout at Lake Belton, which enjoyed what amounted to its inaugural athletic gathering. The school is set to open in August with freshmen and sophomores.
Cameron Yoe AD and football head coach Tommy Brashear said he saw “a lot of smiles and energy” and lauded the department’s staff for diligently seeking out the necessary supplies to aid Monday’s new venture, calling it a team effort.
“A lot of preparation went into it and I really appreciate my coaches and my athletic secretary Ms. (Wanda) White, for calling around and getting the stuff ordered. I’m very proud of them and how hard they work and the job they do around here as always,” Brashear said. “We had great numbers. (The athletes) wanted to get out and do something. They missed not just the working out, but what they missed most is the camaraderie and the fellowship with teammates and friends.”
Summer programs can run through most of July, save for a few off days set aside by the UIL.
Fall practices for football, cross country and volleyball for the 2020-21 school year are slated to begin Aug. 3.