Coaches warily eye COVID surge
More than 120 games involving Dallas-area teams this year have been rescheduled or canceled because of virus
Carlos Lynn knows his Cedar Hill football players won’t have total say in how their families will celebrate Thanksgiving amid the coronavirus pandemic, but that hasn’t stopped him from offering some guidance.
Every day, but especially this week, the Longhorns’ head coach reminds players to wear their mask — or endure extra sprints — and to keep their distance from everyone outside their immediate circle.
As COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to reach record highs in the U.S., health experts warn Thanksgiving gatherings could further fuel the dangers of the pandemic in early December.
That might make the coronavirus teams’ biggest playoff challenger.
While most Dallas-area coaches aren’t strictly directing their players’ families on Thanksgiving decisions, their season-long dual game plans — for on-field play and off-field virus combat — are likely about to face their toughest test during the least flexible part of the season.
“The fact that things are worse than it was when we shut down the first time, it’s definitely alarming,” Lynn said. “Whatever they ask us to do, we’re going to do it, however that looks, and hopefully that doesn’t affect what we’re doing here in the season.”
As Texas has been one of a handful of states to attempt to hold full fall high school sports seasons in 2020, coaches and administrators have extensively altered daily operations.
They’ve arranged for more buses to and from away games, held smaller team meetings, shortened locker room time and segmented their practices to keep levels and position groups separated.
Still, more than 120 football games involving Dallas-area teams have been rescheduled or canceled because of COVID-19 since the UIL allowed teams in Class 4A and below to start playing 13 weeks ago.
Also troubling: 33 of the 120 postponements have come since Nov. 12.
Some schools have had to change their schedules to play every five days, rather than once a week, to account for the disruptions. Other districts have adopted zone formats to decide playoff qualifiers based on a partial schedule.
In the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest COVID-19 forecast, researchers predict the U.S. will record up to 2.3 million positive COVID-19 cases during the week ending Dec. 12, almost double the seven-day rolling average as of Nov. 22.
That’s during the first week of the Class 6A and 5A football playoffs.
As Dallas County continues to set local COVID-19 records, officials have asked residents to celebrate only with those in their households or to quarantine for two weeks before gathering, an impossibility for high school football players.
Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley on Nov. 10 recommended a suspension of youth sports to help curb the area’s surge, though he doesn’t have the authority over Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to institute a change.
“I coach more about keeping a mask up than I do [about] how to play football right now,” Aledo coach Tim Buchanan said. “Honestly, if I’d have known back in the summer what this was going to be like, I’d have told the UIL ‘This is stupid. We can’t play football and do that.’”
The UIL, however, is intent to finish the season without pause, so teams are pushing forward, too.
Earlier in the season, Aledo endured a week with more than 50 players in quarantine due to close contact with a COVID-19 positive teammate, so Buchanan included an aside in the email he sent to families last week with their Thanksgiving practice schedule.
His plea: for local holiday plans with immediate family to keep athletes healthy before the team begins its quest for a third straight state championship.
Lynn reminds his players often about the volleyball and smaller football teams that have had to forfeit playoff games. A lapse in attention, he warns, could doom their title hopes, too.
Denton Guyer coach Rodney Webb, also president of the Texas High School Coaches Association, hasn’t slept through the night for weeks.
When he saw reports late in the summer about pandemic-related improvement in Texas, he figured the football season would run smoothly, perhaps with traditional large playoff crowds by December.
Now, Webb spends nearly as much time reminding his players to consider the entire team’s well-being when outside of school as he does coaching their on-field progress.
“Knock on wood, we’ve gotten through it, I think, as well as about anybody,” Webb said before cautioning about confidence. “It’s coming. There’s no doubt it’s coming. It’s going to affect us at some point. I hope it doesn’t affect us in a catastrophic way.”