Blue Devils hold onto fall sports season as Sul Ross football is postponed

FAR WEST TEXAS — The Presidio High School cross-country team is striding into the fall season, but there are a handful of obstacles ahead that may prove challenging for the Blue Devils, and the team is preparing as best as they can.

Coach Alonzo Samaniego said the early days of the season have been “up and down” since University Interscholastic League (UIL) has changed the dates for meets multiple times already. Starting dates have been moved to September, but in Presidio, the team began practice in early August.

“Numbers are a little down, but we’ve got good kids there,” Samaniego said of the slightly smaller team this year. “Some of their parents are just worried about the pandemic so it’s understandable.” The coach thinks cross-country is at least at an advantage compared to indoor sports, since they are able to space out and run separately, “but the risk is always there,” he said.

Hand sanitizer usage and spacing out at practice are two precautions the team is taking. “You can’t really run with the mask, but we split them up into groups and tell them they have to be socially distant.”

Aside from the challenges of stopping viral spread, the team is also having difficulties planning for competitions. In previous years, cross-country meets could have an unlimited number of teams competing, but due to rule changes, “now you can only have eight teams and each team can only have 10 runners,” the coach explained. Normally, it can be close to 15 or 20 teams.

Being a smaller school, Presidio has struggled to get into the meets this year. “Most of the meets we went to were big school meets, 5A and 6A. We got left out of quite a few,” he said. They won’t compete in Odessa and while they were first denied from Midland, the Blue Devils later made it off the waitlist and back into competition there.

County health authority and local doctor John Paul Schwartz remained apprehensive about schools opening and about sports. While he is glad the teams are conducting practices to minimize contact, he told school officials he doesn’t agree with it.

On the collegiate level, the American Southwest Conference, which Sul Ross State plays in, decided the fate of fall sports long before many major sport conferences across the country, announcing all fall sports for the conference were to be postponed until the spring semester.

As for what this means for the specifics of certain sports schedules, the ASC stated that the Men’s and Women’s Cross-Country Championships will be held Saturday, February 20, 2021. Additionally, regular-season division play for the football season will begin on February 6 and will last five weeks with eight teams in action each week. The schedules for men’s and women’s soccer and volleyball will be released the week of August 24.

Sul Ross State University Athletic Director, Jim Goodman, stated that he is not yet sure what such a busy sports schedule will look like for SRSU in the spring, saying that any kind of plan would still be in its formative stages.

Goodman did say that a plan was being developed that would be designed to promote the safety of each player and this would include practicing in smaller groups, sanitisation zones and scheduled time slots for each team to be able to practice and work out while distanced.

When asked how bad the situation would have to be in the spring for sports to eventually be canceled, Goodman said that it is hard to look that far into the future and that it would be taken as it comes.

In regards to the financial impact that the cancelation of a full season of multiple sports would have on the athletic department Goodman simply said “no amount of money is worth the health and safety of our athletes.”

James Parker, a junior who plays defensive back for the SRSU football team, said it “hurt” when he heard that the season was not going to be played in the fall, but was glad that he and his team would have a chance to play in the spring and said he is keeping a positive mindset for what the unusual season will be like.

“Moving to the spring will just give us more time to get to know each other and interact with each other so we can create a bond before we step on the field together.” said Parker.

Despite SRSU football having their own locker room, they still have to share other facilities, like practice fields and weight rooms, with other sports. Parker said that during a semester where every sport is simultaneously in season he has worries about the practicality of that situation, citing the weightroom, which the school shares with the city of Alpine, as a perfect example.

Overall, Parker said that he feels comfortable on campus with the safety protocols that the athletic department and university have put together, but he is mostly worried about the logistics of what a packed spring semester would look like.

In Presidio, the first meet for Blue Devils cross-country has been delayed from mid-August to  a new date, September 2. Everything in UIL is scheduled already, with the district meet on October 28 and the regional meet on November 9. Samaniego said earlier this month that UIL split up all the smaller classification schools to run separately from the larger schools in competition. “I know at the regional meet, I don’t think they’ll allow any spectators,” just runners and coaches, “but it’s not for sure yet.”