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Marble Falls High School changing extracurricular activities

Marble Falls High School freshman cheerleader Leah Nash hands cheer coach Lauren Berkman required paperwork Aug. 10. The cheerleading squad and other extracurricular activities face a new reality this school year as COVID-19 has changed how students practice and perform. Staff photo by Jennifer Fierro

While the COVID-19 pandemic has changed extracurricular activities at Highland Lakes schools, it hasn’t upended them. Coaches and directors are just adjusting how teams and organizations practice, rehearse, and play.

One of the most important tasks now for adult leaders is giving students a place to regain a sense of team and support one another. 

“We’re motivating each other and having the same bond and sisterhood,” said Caity Clinton, director of the Burnet High School Highlandettes dance team. “We have a bond and creating relationships with each other, just in a safe capacity because of COVID-19.”

The Highlandettes have already put in hours of hard work in their campus dance studio in preparation of the upcoming year. The University Interscholastic League, which governs most extracurricular activities in Texas public schools, is allowing high schools in Class 4A, such as Burnet, and below to hold fall practices. 

“These kids are craving that,” Clinton said of the dance rehearsals. “They’re at home with their parents. They’re ready for someone to push them harder, and we’re pushing just as hard. The practices are difficult. They’re much harder than (performing at) games. Our standard and expectation is nothing different than what it has been. The only differences are wearing the mask and social distancing.”

The Highlandettes have adjusted their practices to COVID-19 health and safety protocols, including wearing face coverings and keeping a safe distance from others to protect against spreading the virus. 

Burnet High School extracurriculars face new challenges
Burnet High School senior Mariah Carlo, a four-year Highlandettes’ letterman, wears a face mask during a recent practice. Courtesy photo

The UIL and school district officials are directing extracurricular programs to follow COVID-19 safety guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health agencies. This sometimes means students wear masks during practices and rehearsals when not taking part in a physical activity.

During recent Burnet High School band rehearsals, students donned masks before entering the band hall and submitted to temperature checks. The directors also split the band into two groups, each meeting on alternate days to help with social distancing.

Director Andrew Hicks had his students wear their face coverings outdoors when they weren’t in marching position. 

“During water breaks or when we head inside, they put on their face coverings,” he said in a previous interview.

COVID-19 has changed how extracurricular events, including football and volleyball, will take place. The UIL is limiting attendance to games and other extracurricular events to 50 percent of the facility’s capacity. Other UIL guidelines can be found here.

Because of the limited capacity in stadiums, the Highlandettes will be seated on the track at Bulldog Field to have more seats available for fans.

The Esprit De Corps, which includes the Highlandettes and the band, will not travel to out-of-town games. Clinton noted that the Esprit De Corps has more than 150 members, and, in stadiums that are smaller than Bulldog Field, the group can take up half of the visitors stands.

At Marble Falls High School, the cheerleading squad is looking for a chance to return to top form. They were a top 20 team in the 5A division competition last year and ranked No. 6 in the 2018-19 season. 

While COVID-19 has put limits on this season, cheerleading coach Lauren Berkman wants the girls to focus on what they can still do.

“I want to be the best at anything we’re doing,” she said. “I want to do it well. It’s a mantra we carry throughout our program. We have a very talented team this year. We have the capability to finish in the top 10.”

That means quite a bit of physical work. Requirements for cheerleading glory are having a solid foundation in tumbling and stunting combined with precise timing and calculated choreography, all executed flawlessly, Berkman said. That means each member must have a strong core and excel in plyometrics, which includes all sorts of jumps and steps. 

As a 5A high school, Marble Falls’ fall extracurriculars are limited on formal practices and rehearsals until at least Sept. 7.

This season, cheerleaders will use more signs rather than megaphones to amplify their chants because of COVID-19, a change recommended by the Universal Cheerleaders Association. 

Marble Falls High School officials are still deciding whether the cheerleaders will travel to out-of-town football games. 

“I don’t know a lot yet,” Berkman said. “We’re anticipating traveling to out-of-town games. We’re preparing for a typical season.”

One thing is for sure: In the middle of a pandemic, it could all change tomorrow.