It has been since the second week of March that student-athletes could practice, play, or even work out after Gov. Greg Abbott issued a stay-at-home order due to COVID-19. But starting Monday, June 8, school districts can begin holding strength-and-conditioning programs, announced the University Interscholastic League.
The UIL has established health protocols and standards for districts to protect student-athletes and coaching staffs.
Since the governor announced relaxing restrictions for gyms and youth sports in May, the Burnet and Marble Falls athletic departments have been busy getting facilities sanitized and ready to meet the requirements.
“We have the opportunity to move forward,” said Rick Hoover, athletics director at Marble Falls Independent School District. “The keys aren’t to be overzealous and be careless. What we do this summer will impact how the fall goes.”
Hoover and Burnet High School head football coach Jerod Rye said coaching staffs are cleaning weight rooms, moving equipment 6 feet apart for social distancing, and adding hand sanitizers as well as tables for medical checks.
Those are the easy tasks.
The challenge is ensuring a 25 percent capacity in weight rooms; cleaning weights, bars, and other equipment before and after each lift; and dividing athletes into small groups in which they’ll remain until the summer program ends July 31.
At Marble Falls, athletes will be broken into groups of 10.
“If someone were to test positive (for COVID-19), anybody in that group of ten has to be quarantined,” Hoover said. “To not cross-contaminate, you can never expand groups.”
Marble Falls coaches are also staggering strength-and-conditioning sessions. Football players entering grades 10-12 will arrive at 6:30 a.m. and grades 7-9 at 8 a.m. Boys basketball players and Lady Mustangs arrive at 9 a.m. Athletes playing baseball should contact their coaches to inquire about what time to report.
In Burnet, all high school athletes should report to the field house at 8 a.m. Middle school players will follow at 10 a.m. Burnet coaches will start every session by taking each athlete’s temperature, writing it down, and asking players to sign a paper stating they haven’t experienced cold or flu-like symptoms in the past 24 hours. They’ll split athletes into groups of 24, in which they will remain throughout the summer.
To adhere to capacity restrictions, Burnet coaches are using three different locations: the high school weight room, the Burnet Middle School weight room, and Bulldog Field.
The UIL is giving coaches more scheduling flexibility this summer. In past years, coaches could only conduct strength-and-conditioning programs Monday through Thursday. This year, they can be scheduled Monday through Friday.
Also, the UIL previously did not allow coaches to work with student-athletes in sport-specific drills and fundamentals but are allowing them to do so this summer.
“We’ll get more time with sport-specific training that coaches can lead,” Rye said. “Last summer, there were more limitations. This summer, there’s more leniency.”
However, the UIL will not allow one-on-one contact drills.
Even though coaches have been providing workouts to student-athletes during the COVID-19 shutdown, Hoover said they’ll ease the kids back into the summer program to get their bodies accustomed to more rigorous workouts.
“They’ll be low-intensity at the beginning,” he said. “A lot of teaching will take place.”
Athletes should bring water in their own water bottles, though water stations will be set up. If people are serving water, they’ll wear gloves and use paper cups.
Once athletes leave for the day, custodians at both school districts will sanitize the athletic facilities.
While the preparation is extensive and intense, both coaches said it’s worth it to ensure athletic department staff and students remain in good health.
“Kids will have to get back into the groove,” Rye said. “It’ll be an adjustment period, but kids will follow protocols. There’ll be a learning curve for them and us. Let’s be really diligent and follow the guidelines. Let’s do everything we can.”