By Joseph Hoyt
The Dallas Morning News
The University Interscholastic League is working with state officials on a plan allowing limited in-person summer strength and conditioning starting on June 8, marking a significant step toward the viability of the 2020 high school football season.
The Dallas Morning News obtained a memo sent to coaches and athletic director on Tuesday morning notifying them of the decision.
“UIL is aware of Governor Abbott’s May 18 announcement and is actively working with appropriate state officials to allow schools to begin limited summer strength and conditioning and marching band activities on June 8, 2020,” a UIL spokeswoman said in a statement. “As soon as the details of that plan are finalized, UIL will release them to schools to allow time to plan and prepare for bringing students back to campus for these purposes.”
The decision comes a day after Gov. Greg Abbott announced the second phase in his plan for re-opening Texas, which included the return of professional and youth sports on May 31. Abbott’s latest announcement also allows private and public schools to start summer classes on June 1.
Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said Monday that he didn’t expect Abbott’s ruling to change many districts’ plans for in-person classes. Dallas ISD and many other school districts across the area have already decided on virtual-only summer school classes. It remains to be seen how each district will handle strength and conditioning now that the UIL plans to allow it.
The UIL’s Legislative Council voted on May 1 to temporarily expand the authority of executive director Charles Breithaupt, allowing Breithaupt to adjust UIL rules in the face of COVID-19, clearing the way for Tuesday’s announcement.
The UIL’s targeted date is the same day as the Louisiana High School Athletic Association will allow summer football conditioning with up to 25 people, according to KTBS-TV.
The National Federation of State High School Associations also released an 11-page set document on Tuesday outlining guidance for re-opening high school athletics across the country.
The spread of coronavirus effectively canceled high school athletics across the country. In Texas, it started on March 12 when the UIL suspended the boys state basketball during the semifinals in San Antonio. Days later, practices — which were initially left up to the discretion of each school district — were also suspended.
Hope for a chance to finish 2020 seasons lingered, but that ended when all three of the major high school governing bodies for athletics — the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools, the Southwest Preparatory Conference and the UIL — announced the remainder of the 2019-20 athletic calendar would be canceled.
“Our highest priority during this challenging time is ensuring the health and safety of our students and communities and making progress in the containment of COVID-19 in Texas," Breithaupt said in a news release on April 17. "We are now turning our attention to the 2020-2021 school year.”
As April turned to May, and the number of positive coronavirus cases and related deaths rose across the state, the prospect of high school athletics operating as normal in the fall turned from a certainty into a legitimate question.
More than 30 high school football coaches participated in a survey from The Dallas Morning News earlier this month regarding the 2020 football season: 94 percent believed there would be a season and 70 percent believed the season would start on time. Despite the positive outlook, there was still some doubt. Coaches planned to follow the guidelines set forward by their superiors, but when they turned to the UIL for direction, there wasn’t clarity.
“It’s the first time that nobody is really talking,” Euless Trinity coach Chris Jensen said earlier this month. “I ask friends of mine who are superintendents, friends of mine who are in other parts of the state, people that are higher up than me. Nobody knows anything.”
It’s been wait and see since coronavirus shut down high school athletics. Now, a major — yet limited — step toward its return is expected to happen.