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Public schools reopen athletic facilities Monday for voluntary strength and conditioning workouts

Campuses across Texas have been closed since the outbreak of the deadly coronavirus in mid-March.

SAN ANTONIO — Thousands of high school and middle school athletes are expected to return to greater San Antonio campuses Monday for the start of voluntary strength and conditioning workouts and sport-specific instruction.

Schools across Texas have been closed since the outbreak of the coronavirus in mid-March. The voluntary workouts will be open to boys and girls in grades 7-12 at every UIL school.

The University Interscholastic League, which governs extracurricular activities in the state’s public schools, gave schools the green light last month to reopen their athletic facilities on June 8 for the workouts.

“We’ve got over 400 kids coming in,” New Braunfels ISD athletic director Jim Streety said Sunday night. “As soon as we got the word from the UIL, we started meeting with our (athletic) coordinators. We developed a plan and then last week, they got with their staffs and got more specific with what they were going to do.

“We got all that out to the parents. All of our registration is online. We opened that up a week ago Friday. All of our groups are full, and we still don’t have everybody in. But we had to limit our registration a little bit because of the UIL decisions on staffing and group sizes. After Monday, we’ll make some adjustments on that.”

Todd Howey, athletic director of the San Antonio ISD, said last week that the district has been working on a plan for weeks and would be ready to start workouts Monday.

“We’ll be ready to go,” he said.

While athletic directors and coaches said they’ll be glad to have their athletes back on campus, they are proceeding with a high degree of caution.

Credit: Photo by Antonio Morano bit.ly/XR79FT / Special to KENS5.com
Clemens coach Jared Johnston, leaning, has gone 53-37 in eight seasons with the Buffaloes and led them to the playoffs six times.

“Our top priority is to keep everybody safe and healthy,” Clemens football coach Jared Johnston said. “We’ve got kids that have worked out on their own and we have kids that haven’t done anything. We’re going to go super slow and make sure that our kids have plenty of water breaks and plenty of time to rest."

“I told our coaches that we’re not going to try to make up March, April and May in the month of June. Our goal is to get to the point where we can do sports in the fall. Mainly, we want to get back outside exercising. You can work out all you want by yourself, but it’s different with a coach," Johnston said.

Johnston, who is preparing for his ninth season as Clemens head coach, said he expects to have about 300 athletes back on campus Monday.

“We understand how this works,” Johnston said. “We want our kids to feel comfortable. Our parents to feel comfortable and for everybody figure out this routine.”

Streety stressed the importance of following the UIL guidelines put in place as a safeguard against the highly contagious coronavirus.

“The first thing I told our coaches in Zoom meeting last week was, ‘Hey, we’re only going to get one chance to do this right because if we don’t, we might not be doing anything when school starts.’"

“My emphasis is going to be that we follow the guidelines to the T, and that we do everything we can possibly do to make sure our kids are safe, and our coaches are doing things right. From there, we going to focus, hopefully, on improving everything. The first couple of days are going to be a work in progress. We’ll make adjustments.”

Per the UIL guidelines, athletes will not be allowed to use the locker rooms or showers on campus. Schools are also prohibited from providing water for their athletes.

“They have to bring their own water,” Johnston said. “We’ve always given out T-shirts. This year we’re giving out water bottles. There will be no sharing of towels, either. They’ll have to bring their own towels.

Credit: David Flores / KENS5.com
Burbank High School wide receiver Juan Urbiola, a returning starter, takes a water break during the first day of preseason workouts last year.

While most school districts are reopening their athletic facilities Monday, the largest one in Greater San Antonio won’t start voluntary workouts until June 15. The Northside ISD, which has 11 high schools that play football and 20 middle, is the fourth-largest school district in the state.

“As large as our district is, we’ve got a lot of moving parts,” NISD athletic director Stan Laing said. “We’ve been meeting with our coaches, and we just want to make sure we feel very comfortable with our plan to make sure our students are safe and our coaches are safe.”

The UIL football season starts on Thursday, Aug. 27.

Schools in TAPPS, the largest governing body private schools in Texas, began voluntary workouts last Monday. The Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools guidelines for the workouts are similar to the ones outlined by the UIL.

Requirements for all UIL workouts

Schools must follow all requirements of state and local authorities in addition to the requirements below:

• Attendance records at workouts must be optional for students and in compliance with the rules for Summer Strength/Conditioning Programs & Sport Specific Skill Instruction noted below. In addition to on-campus workout options, schools should consider providing students guidance for working out at home or remotely away from school. This can include virtual workouts, emailed or otherwise electronically delivered workout instructions, or any delivery model approved by the local school district.

• Attendance records shall be kept, however, students shall not be required or allowed to make up missed days or workouts.

• Fees, if any, shall be established by the superintendent and collected by the school. Any payment to coaches shall be from the school and from no other source.

• Students may not be given access to locker rooms or shower facilities. Students should report to workouts in proper gear and immediately return home to shower at end of the workout.

• During workouts, schools must have at least one staff member per twenty students in attendance to ensure appropriate social distancing, hygiene, and safety measures are implemented.

• Schools must have hand sanitizer or hand-washing stations readily available in the workout area. Students and staff should be encouraged to use it frequently.

• All surfaces in workout areas must be thoroughly disinfected throughout and at the end of each day.

• No clothing or towels may be laundered on site or shared during workouts.

• There can be no shared water or food.

• Before the start of summer workouts, and at the start of every week of summer workouts, schools should consider pre-screening all students for COVID symptoms that they or others living in their house may experience. This can be completed by phone prior to the first day of workouts, in person or in writing. Students and staff must self-screen every day for COVID-19 symptoms for themselves and family members. Schools should consider taking the temperature of each student each day at the start of the conditioning sessions, if possible.

• Schools should plan for entry and exit procedures that reduce the number of students and parents congregating outside and/or mixing around the workout areas and parking areas. Consider staggering start and end times, assigning students to entries and exits to ensure even distribution of students entering/exiting at each entry point, providing guidance to students to enter one at a time and wait six feet apart outside the entrance.

• If the school is planning to offer transportation for summer activities, schools should follow all TEA guidance and local guidance related to such transportation.