Since the middle of March, athletes and members of marching bands from high schools around Houston have been unable to practice their craft together.
In less than two weeks, the long layoff will be required no more.
The University Interscholastic League (UIL), which governs extracurricular competition among Texas public schools, announced last week that sports strength and conditioning camps, along with marching band practices, can resume June 8 with several safety measures in place aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19, the upper-respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus.
But that doesn’t mean all area schools are bolting full speed ahead.
“We’re just going to play it by ear for now, continue with the virtual sessions and hope we can return to some kind of normal in August,” said Jesse Espinosa, the band director at Waltrip High School.
Among the UIL guidelines are that students and staff must self-screen every day prior to coming on campuses, while schools must also have hand sanitizer or hand-washing stations readily available in the practice and rehearsal areas.
Heights High School football coach Stephen Dixon said he will take advantage of the opportunity to start preparing for a fall season. He said he and his staff will conduct their summer strength and conditioning camp through the summer as long as the UIL allows.
“We are cautiously optimistic about beginning summer strength and conditioning programs and marching band practices that safely allow students to get back to working with their coaches and directors,” UIL executive director Charles Breithaupt said in a news release. “While we are eager to resume UIL activities, we must do so carefully, deliberately and with an understanding that major adjustments are needed to ensure safety.”
Espinosa is proceeding with caution and said he will not have in-person practices or rehearsals either inside or outside until Houston ISD has cleared the buildings. For now, he said his students will continue the virtual sessions they have been having since March 12.
Espinosa said chief among his concerns is having the materials required to clean and disinfect chairs, instruments and other touchable surfaces after each use as stipulated by the UIL to keep his students safe and healthy.
“Our space is limited, so I think we would probably err on the side of being cautious and not have any of the kids exposed,” he said.
For marching bands, indoor practices and rehearsals can be conducted with up to a maximum of 25 percent capacity, with no group larger than 10 allowed to gather together. Meanwhile, those practicing outside are required to be in groups no larger than 15 students. Espinosa said those stipulations would present a significant obstacle for his nearly 200-member band.
“It would be challenging to put something together like we normally do,” he said. “Other than our parking lot, there’s no space that would be safe enough for us to be in.”
The Heights football team will hold one-hour workout sessions outdoors with anything from weight-lifting to agility drills to explosion work, according to Dixon.
Per the new UIL regulations, all stations will be 10 feet apart and have hand sanitizer present at every station, while equipment will be cleaned between uses.
“We still are brainstorming different ways to take extra precaution,” Dixon said.
Guidelines for strength and conditioning camps are at uiltexas.org/athletics/covid-19-information. Marching band information can be found at uiltexas.org/music/covid-19-information.