Tepper: Brace yourself — the 2020 Texas high school football season will be different

Photo by John Hamilton

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As far as I can tell, the 2020 Texas high school football season is slated to kick off in earnest at 5 p.m. CT on Thursday, August 27. That’s when toe is scheduled to meet leather when San Marcos Baptist Academy hosts Dallas Fairhill School in a TAPPS six-man contest. The UIL season isn’t far behind, at 6 p.m., with a handful of games across the Lone Star State — from Class 6A (Cy Springs at Katy Taylor) to Class 1A (Turkey Valley vs. Aspermont in the kickoff of the annual Jayton Gridiron Classic).

We’re in that strange part of the calendar where time feels fluid. Football is simultaneously right around the corner (only 59 days!) and far off in the future (how are we expected to wait 59 more days?).

But as you know, because you are a living person in the remarkably awful year of 2020, a lot can happen in 59 days. And the upcoming Texas high school football season feels more like a question mark than an exclamation point.

There’s a lot of words being said and written about the future of Texas high school football. Here are two more that I think are particularly prudent.

BRACE

Let’s all acknowledge: the 2020 Texas high school football season will be fundamentally different than the seasons that preceded it.

The COVID-19 pandemic is not the first global event that’s affected Texas high school football — many schools didn’t field teams during both World Wars; and natural disasters have played a factor as well, like when Galveston Ball canceled its 1900 season due to the Great Galveston Hurricane.

With the coronavirus causing troubling numbers in Texas right now, many Texas high school football programs have suspended their voluntary strength and conditioning workouts — some due to a positive test on the team, others as a precaution.  And with spring football practices already canceled, it’s fair to assume that this point that if and when football teams do get on the field, they will be a bit rougher around the edges than we’re used to seeing, especially in the early going.

Furthermore, it’s important to recognize that while we’re all experiencing the same event, teams will be experiencing it differently. It’s entirely possible that one team starts football season and plays it all the way through; another team starts football season but doesn’t finish it; and another team doesn’t start at all.

And this doesn’t even address the topic of fans in the stands, which remains a total unknown. But I think it’s fair to say at this juncture that it’s highly unlikely that we’ll see full stadiums in the fall.

This isn’t to be alarmist or negative; quite the opposite. It’s simply important that Texas high school football fans recognize that this year will certainly be different.

I remain optimistic that Texas high school football will happen in some form or fashion, but I’m also certain that it won’t look like the 2019 season. It’s prudent that Texas high school football fans brace themselves for that reality.

GRACE

Let’s all acknowledge: everyone is flying pretty blind in this situation.

The status of the pandemic, especially here in Texas, is changing rapidly, as is our understanding of the virus itself. Three weeks ago, COVID-19 appeared to be ebbing across the Lone Star State; now, well, the situation has changed.

There are going to be a lot of decisions made about and surrounding Texas high school football, by coaches and school districts and governing bodies like the UIL. Not all of them are going to be popular, in part because for some reason, we’ve turned a viral pandemic into a political wedge issue.

But these decisions are difficult and nuanced and frustrating, because the margin for error is slim. And to make matters worse, the rapidly changing information is going to make these decisions a moving target.

The UIL, school district administrators and Texas high school football coaches are, first and foremost, teachers — their No. 1 priority is not free safeties, but student safety.

What I would urge Texas high school football fans: offer some grace to the decision-makers. Assume the best intentions from them, not some sinister objective. These are challenging times and call for challenging decisions to be made; the least that Texas high school football fans can do is give the decision-makers the benefit of the doubt.

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We all want football in the fall; nobody is rooting against the return of the Friday night lights. We're all in this together. But these extraordinary times will call for an extraordinary season, and we should prepare for that with an open mind.

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