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For now, it’s ‘Play Ball’ for Orange County schools

AUSTIN — As of right now, it’s going to be “Play Ball” for all of the Orange County schools as the University Interscholastic League set new guidelines for the 2020-21 UIL season.

For Class 4A-and-under, the original schedule will be in place with the start of practices coming Monday, Aug. 3.

However, all Class 6A-5A schools will have to wait until Sept. 7 to start practice.

That means Orange County schools Bridge City, Little Cypress-Mauriceville, Orangefield and Vidor can all start football, volleyball and cross country workouts Aug. 3.

Volleyball matches start as early as Aug. 11 while the football regular seasons begin Aug. 28.

There will be plenty of schedule changes ahead for football and volleyball teams in the area due to playing schools in 6A-5A, a lot of them being scheduled against the likes of Nederland, Port Neches-Groves, Port Arthur Memorial, Beaumont West Brook and Beaumont United, plus several Houston schools.

The first day of practice for 6A-5A schools will be Sept. 7. The first volleyball matches will be played Sept. 14 and the first football games will be allowed Sept. 24.

Fans and parents should be prepared for smaller attendance at games with the following guidelines:

Schools may allow spectators to attend games, contests, or events within a maximum 50% capacity limitation, provided that appropriate spacing between spectators is maintained according to the protocol, and according to the following:

  1. Schools and/or host sites should post visible signs and/or messaging stating any individuals who are confirmed to have, suspected of having, are experiencing symptoms of, or have been in close contact with an individual who has been confirmed to have COVID-19 should not enter the facility.
  2. Spectators, audiences, fans and media are required to wear face coverings as described in Executive Order GA-29.
  3. Sites are encouraged to utilize remote ticketing options to help manage capacity limitations within a maximum 50% occupancy. Paper tickets and programming should be minimized to help avoid transferable materials.
  4. If possible, set reserved times for entry to avoid mass arrivals.
  5. Groups should maintain at least six feet of distance from other groups at all times, including the process of admission and seating. A group is defined as no more than 10 people including the members of the household and those persons who traveled together to the facility.
  6. Schools should not allow seating in consecutive rows, and should block off seating to maintain a minimum six feet of distance between groups.
  7. Pathways for spectator ingress and egress should be clearly marked and unobstructed.
  8. Schools should provide hand sanitizing stations and/or hand washing stations at entrances and inside the facility.
  9. Seating, hand rails, and other common surfaces should be cleaned and disinfected prior to each game or contest.
  10. Press Box seating should include social distancing of at least six feet between individuals when possible.
  11. Schools should limit access to working media providing coverage of the event to ensure protocols are followed.
  12. Post-game interviews should be conducted while wearing face coverings and maintaining at least six feet of distance between the interviewer and individual being interviewed.

 

The modifications to the 2020-2021 calendar differ by activity and conference and can be found on the UIL website and in the chart below. These adjustments reflect the public health situation at this time and the varying numbers of COVID-19 cases across different geographic areas of the state. This plan provides a delay for schools in highly-populated metro areas, primarily conferences 5A-6A, given the challenges with COVID-19 those communities are facing, while providing schools in other areas, primarily 1A-4A, an opportunity to start seasons on schedule. Acknowledging the situation is not always clear-cut and that COVID-19 affects every community differently, the plan also allows for local flexibility and encourages districts to plan for possible interruptions in order to complete district seasons.

Additionally, the COVID-19 risk mitigation guidelines for the 2020-2021 school year can be found at this link. This includes guidance around face coverings, general operations and protocol for individuals confirmed or exposed to COVID-19, congregate settings (band halls, locker rooms, etc.), practice and rehearsal activities, spectators and media, and concession stands and food service.

 

These guidelines are in addition to guidance issued by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and intended to be implemented along with TEA guidance, which applies to UIL academic activities and extracurricular non-UIL activities.

 

With the understanding that not all schools will be able to start at the same time, this plan allows for schools to make playing decisions at the local level, and the UIL will work directly with schools that have scheduling issues not addressed in this plan to allow them flexibility to complete as many contests as possible.

 

“Our goal in releasing this plan is to provide a path forward for Texas students and schools,” said UIL Executive Director Dr. Charles Breithaupt. “While understanding situations change and there will likely be interruptions that will require flexibility and patience, we are hopeful this plan allows students to participate in the education-based activities they love in a way that prioritizes safety and mitigates risk of COVID-19 spread.”

 

UIL will continue to work with state officials and monitor CDC and other federal guidance to determine any potential modifications that may become necessary.