LYFORD — The Santa Maria and Santa Rosa football teams will be playing significantly reduced schedules this season due to decisions made by the UIL in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The UIL chose not to delay the season start dates for Class 1A through 4A, which leaves the Cougars and Warriors, who can’t practice until Sept. 8 because of Cameron County orders, with one month less to prepare for their respective district slates than opponents who can practice starting Aug. 3.
Texas attorney general Ken Paxton told school districts in a letter Tuesday that local health officials can’t close schools “in their jurisdiction on a purely prophylactic basis,” giving districts the option to open facilities prior to dates set by the county. Some districts in Texas have since adjusted start dates, but no adjustments have been reported in the East Valley.
Santa Rosa’s district, 16-3A Division II, elected to split into zones for the 2020 season. The Warriors will be playing in the South Zone along with Monte Alto, Hebbronville and Banquete. The North Zone will feature Skidmore-Tynan, Odem and Taft.
“It actually worked out (geographically) because we were going by start dates, by when we were projected to start face-to-face with our athletes,” Santa Rosa coach Hector Ayala said. “It just so happened that the three teams up north had the same start date, which is Monday, Aug. 3, and everybody else didn’t have a start date until September.
“We felt it was in everybody’s best interest to separate that way. It’ll give us a chance to get going, and then hopefully by the play-in game, to try and make it to the playoffs, we’ll be up to par,” Ayala added.
The district will have play-in games prior to the Nov. 7 district certification deadline to determine playoff representatives and seeding. The top teams from each zone will be guaranteed a postseason berth and will face off to determine seeding. The second-place teams from each zone will play the third-place teams, with the winners advancing to the playoffs. Coaches are still working out how to determine seeding for the final two teams.
Santa Rosa is tentatively set to start district play Oct. 21, but Ayala said schools are still waiting on direction from administrators before finalizing that date. He has three non-district contests tentatively scheduled to get the Warriors ready for district battle.
“We’re still trying to have a non-district schedule, but everything keeps changing based on other school districts and stuff like that,” Ayala said. “But as of right now I’ve talked to Santa Maria and Port Isabel and Progreso, but I’m just kind of waiting for confirmation. It’s kind of a waiting game, and we understand that, but we have tentative agreements, so to speak. There’s still some hesitation, some reservation because of the situation we’re in, but the kids are excited, and they want some of that normalcy back.”
Santa Maria coach Israel Gracia said the 16-2A Division I schedule hasn’t changed as of now, but it’s still not set in stone. The district executive committee will hold a meeting in the near future to try and sort things out in a way that benefits all five teams in the district.
“Other schools are waiting on their school boards to find out when they’re going back to school and then we’ll have a DEC meeting to decide the (district start date), that way everybody can start at the same time. That’s what we’re trying to do, but I don’t know how that’s going to work out,” Gracia said.
Gracia has a scrimmage against Santa Rosa and a non-district game against Lyford penciled in to give his Cougars a chance to shake off the rust before district. He said losing one month of the season will have a big impact on his program, but he’s holding out hope that his team gets the chance to play this fall.
“It’s going to affect us a lot, but it’s affecting everybody the same. We’re not going to be as ready as we’ve been before, and the kids aren’t going to be in the shape they’re used to being in going into district play,” Gracia said. “Right now, I’m just hoping that we’re able to have a season, whether it’s short or not. It all depends on how bad it is in the county at that time. I’m just hoping the kids can get back to some sort of normalcy.”