After months of waiting and wondering, high school football fans will get their first glimpse of what the upcoming season will look like when Denton-area teams hit the field for fall practice on Monday.
Class 4A and under teams will be able to start practicing under the UIL’s COVID-19 fall sports plan released last week.
For the Denton area, that means Argyle, Aubrey, Sanger, Krum, Pilot Point and Ponder will start preparing for the upcoming season.
But getting to this point has not been without drama.
On Monday, Denton County Public Health issued a recommendation that all county schools delay in-person learning, including athletics, until Sept. 8. Argyle ISD’s school board met on Monday night to discuss the recommendation and, ultimately, decided to remain on schedule.
“It’s been a roller coaster of a ride for the last month, so I’m very excited to get started,” Argyle coach Todd Rodgers said. “The kids are pretty excited to get started. They’ve been watching from afar with the recommendations coming from Denton County, the ups and downs of the closures, and what the UIL has done. They’ve been listening to that, too, so it’s been a gamut of emotions.”
After Argyle ISD made its decision on Monday night, a domino effect ensued.
Other districts in the area soon followed Argyle’s lead, as Krum and Pilot Point ISD both agreed to let its team begin practicing on Monday, as well.
“Having an opportunity for the kids to get back out here for some sense of normalcy, playing football and being with their buddies, I’m just glad they’re getting that opportunity,” Pilot Point coach Danny David said. “Up until [Wednesday], I didn’t know if we would start on time, to tell you the truth. You still have a lot of uncertainty. Anything can change. Everything above us with politicians, they can shut things down at any time if it continues to get worse.”
To prevent COVID-19 infections, local coaches have devised a thorough process to keep students and staff as safe as possible.
Aubrey coach Keith Ivy said his players are required to answer a coronavirus questionnaire and have their temperature checked before they enter school facilities. In addition, Aubrey’s locker room and coach’s office are being fumigated each day after practice.
The Chaparrals have also ordered full-face visors that will cover the otherwise open portion of a player’s face mask.
“I feel like we’ve got a really good plan,” Ivy said. “We’re going to split up varsity, junior varsity and freshman and have them enter through different doors into the field house. We’re going to have three different coaches in the locker room. For varsity, we are spacing them out in the locker rooms, and really all three teams.
“Traditionally, we’ve done our warmups in one big group. Now, we’re going to split them up into varsity, junior varsity and freshman. We are making them wear masks any time their helmet is not on.”
Teams will not be able to make full contact and tackle to the ground until next Saturday.
But, as David noted, once teams do start playing at full speed, only so much social distancing will be possible.
“We’ll social distance them the best we can, but there are going to be times you can’t social distance due to the nature of football,” David said.
For Rodgers, all of the COVID-19 guidelines are in place to accomplish one goal — mitigate exposure as much as possible.
The UIL’s latest coronavirus mandate, which was released earlier this month, required players and coaches that were not actively exercising to wear a face covering.
“There’s lots of things we have implemented into practice that will be very different,” Rodgers said. “We’ve made drastic changes in summer conditioning, so the kids have adapted. We’re just going to translate that over into football practice with a few more tweaks and social distancing in practicing.
“Water breaks are going to look different. Hand washing breaks are something we’ve never done. Sanitation stations and minimal use of the locker room and things like that as a transition into the beginning of school [are new].”
While there is no denying the upcoming season will look drastically different than it ever has before, coaches say they are prepared for the task at hand.
Because ultimately, all they want is a chance to play their season as safely as possible.
“We’re going to keep everything clean and disinfected, but we’ve already been in the habit of doing that,” David said. “We’re going to try and go overboard just to make sure that when we lay our head down at night, that we did everything we could to make sure no one gets COVID-19, and the kids get the opportunity to keep playing.”
Steve Gamel contributed to this report.