After nearly three months of no games or practices because of COVID-19, Denton-area high schools have studied the return-to-play guidelines released by the UIL and have deemed themselves all systems go to host strength and conditioning workouts and sport-specific activities with their athletes.
The Denton Record-Chronicle contacted the 11 UIL schools in its coverage area, and all except Ryan will conduct some form of organized workouts on Monday. Ryan won’t start until June 22, mostly because its campus is under construction.
Coaches universally echoed the same message about being excited to finally work with their athletes again.
“We are certainly excited to get back and be firsthand with our kids,” Denton coach Billy Miller said. “It’s been a crazy couple of months, and with all the things going on in our country right now, there’s no better time, in my opinion, to get back with our kids and be the strong leaders and strong voices and strong men that they need in their life right now.”
Argyle coach Todd Rodgers agreed.
“It’s awesome. I’ve missed them,” Rodgers said. “I think we are all really looking forward to getting back to some structure, though the structure will look a lot different at first.”
In the first significant sign that games and practices can resume on time in the fall, the UIL announced May 22 that schools can begin strength and conditioning and sport-specific activities on June 8 — albeit with contingencies aimed at eliminating any threat of spreading the coronavirus. The UIL listed 12 requirements for schools to hold workouts, ranging from a 20-1 player-to-coach ratio to having hand washing stations readily available. In addition, teams can’t share food or water and will be limited to two hours for strength and conditioning and one hour for sport-specific drills.
Schools will also have to adjust to diminished capacity for indoor facilities, particularly in the weight room. Indoor workouts can only be conducted at 25% capacity. For outdoor instruction, students and staff must maintain at least 6 feet of distance when not actively exercising. When exercising, they must be 10 feet apart.
To compensate, coaches plan to break their athletes into groups and stagger sessions throughout the day to keep numbers within reason.
“It’s a lot different than what we are used to,” Braswell coach Cody Moore said. “We are all used to having 90 kids in that weight room. At least until the restrictions are loosened, we’re never going to have more than 30.”
For Guyer coach Rodney Webb, who was hired during the shutdown, Monday is his first chance to be around his new players.
“For me, it’s going to be like my first day on the job,” Webb said. “It’s the first time I’ll have had an opportunity to be around the kids. The paradigm is different right now, but it’s going to be exciting to see them all.”
While the UIL has put guidelines in place, not every school’s agenda looks the same. The four Denton ISD schools will initially only host strength and conditioning for football, volleyball and cross country. The remaining eight UIL schools will have activities for all sports starting Monday.
Also, not every school or sport will do both strength and conditioning and sport-specific training over the first few days. Some will only conduct workouts outside for the first few days or weeks.
“They are all different, but they are all following CDC and UIL guidelines,” Denton ISD Joey Florence said of his schools. “We are being overly cautious.”
Moore agreed, adding that athletes need time to get back into shape.
“We will get into our football skills and drills and do those sort of things after the first week or two,” Moore said. “Hopefully, it goes really well, which I certainly anticipate. We are going to start on the first available date, but we’re not going to rush how we go about doing it. We are just worried about being careful with how we get them back into shape and acclimated.”
Besides construction issues that limit access to the school’s athletic facilities, Ryan coach Dave Henigan said he chose to wait until June 22 to ensure they had all their ducks in a row. Ryan typically doesn’t conduct workouts in July, though it will this year with the new format. Henigan said they should get in the same number of workouts with their athletes, if not more.
“For us at Ryan, it just makes sense [to wait],” Henigan said. “That’s not to say anyone else is wrong. It’s just what we are doing, and if you couple in the fact that Ryan High School is just totally torn up right now, we have a few challenges that other schools don’t have. We are going to do it our way. We always have. Just because you can start on June 8 doesn’t mean you have to.
“I think we are all excited to get back and be around our kids. That’s as important as anything we will do this summer — to get around them and let them know we care about them.”