When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the high school sports world in March, Guyer coach Rodney Webb never imagined the country would still be battling the virus in July.
Instead, Webb’s initial concern was how much time he would have to prepare for spring football practice. But as the weeks went by, and the situation deteriorated, Webb watched as the UIL eventually canceled spring football, along with the rest of spring sports.
Now, with just 16 days left before schools are scheduled to begin practice on Aug. 3, Webb — who is president of the Texas High School Coaches Association — is grappling with another reality.
If there is a football season this fall, it will look drastically different than everyone is accustomed to.
“I think we’re going to have a season,” Webb said. “When it comes to athletics, I can tell you this for sure. The UIL is committed for us have a fall, winter and spring sports season. What it’s going to come down to is what are the modifications going to be? I think it’s unlikely right now that everything is going to be normal. I think it’s unlikely that we’re going to start practice on Aug. 3 and play our first game on Aug. 28.
“I think the likelihood every day [that] there will be a modification to the calendar grows greater and greater.”
On Friday, TAPPS — the governing body for private schools in Texas — announced all fall sports would be pushed back. TAPPS football teams will now play their first games on Sept. 28.
While the UIL has not officially announced moving its start dates back, there is wide belief that an announcement could come as soon as Monday.
Webb believes if the UIL does modify its calendar, the most likely scenario would be pushing the football season back and starting at the end of September.
“If football season got pushed back a month, that’s no problem,” Webb said. “We would play the state championships in January. Consequently, winter sports would get pushed back a month and spring sports get pushed back a month. Everything just gets pushed back. And we’ll still have the vast majority of our seasons.
“I think the modification will be a late start, but no kind of flipping of the seasons.”
One widely circulated rumor on social media has been moving football to the spring and flipping spring sports, like baseball and softball where social distancing can be achieved, to the fall.
But Webb, along with Argyle coach Todd Rodgers, was quick to dismiss this theory.
“The reason being is because the UIL is a governing body for all sports — not just football,” Rodgers said. “They’re going to make decisions for all kids. They’re not going to do anything in their mind to give someone a leg up on another one.”
Webb’s main concern was since the spring sports season was canceled by the UIL in April, it would not be fair to put those same sports at risk for potentially being canceled again in the fall.
Braswell coach Cody Moore echoed Webb’s concerns when asked about his thoughts of flipping fall and spring sports.
“I can tell you [flipping seasons] is not on the horizon right now at all,” Webb said. “We took our seasons away from our spring sports because of the pandemic. So now, we’re going to move those same sports into the eye of the storm. And then what happens if schools stay shut down? Now, we are going to cancel baseball or softball seasons two seasons in a row?”
While several Denton-area coaches were not proponents of playing football in the spring, Ryan coach Dave Henigan said every option should be on the table.
Henigan did not specifically say he was for or against playing football in the spring. His main concern was giving all students in all sports the best chance to play.
“The one thing that we’ve got to do is to make sure that seniors, no matter what sport — cross country, tennis, volleyball, football, track and field, baseball, any sport we play — we’ve got to do everything we can to make sure seniors don’t miss out on their senior year. I just think that’s so important. That was devastating for those kids last year, and we cannot allow that to happen. We’ve got to do whatever it takes. For me, everything should be on the table to ensure that seniors get some kind of senior season in every sport that we play.
“What does that look like? I have no idea. But nothing should be off the table. That was devastating for those kids and families, and I don’t want to see that happen ever again. Philosophically, that’s how we should be thinking.”
Another issue surrounding the upcoming football season is whether or not fans will be allowed in the stands.
Webb said he did not know if stadiums would be filled or empty, but Rodgers believes fans will be in attendance.
“It could be nightmarish if you start reducing stadium capacity to 50% and having primary family only,” Rodgers said. “What do you do with grandparents raising kids or divorced parents? It would be logistical nightmare. They’re outdoor stadiums. Just require a mask.”
Most Denton-area teams have been training this summer under the UIL’s COVID-19 guidelines, which most recently require players and coaches to wear a face covering while not actively exercising.
So far, only one Denton-area school — Denton — has reported a positive COVID-19 case associated with its football program. Braswell, Krum and Sanger had someone affiliated with their athletic programs test positive for the virus in mid-June, and subsequently suspended all athletic activities for two weeks.
To date, there have been 4,467 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Denton County and 41 deaths.
The upcoming football season may be up in the air, but local coaches are staying positive they will be able to get back on the field in some capacity.
“We’ve got to figure out a way to have a season,” Webb said. “We need it. Our country needs it. Our country needs Friday night football. Not just our kids — our parents need it and our communities need it.
Steve Gamel contributed to this report.