How Has COVID Changed High School Football in Plano?

Plano Senior High cheerleaders at the Oct. 9 football game // photos Kim Peichel Photography
Plano Senior High cheerleaders at the Oct. 9 football game // photos Kim Peichel Photography

Plano Coaches, Parents and Student-Athletes Adapt to a Year Unlike Any Other

High school football is incredibly popular in Texas, so popular that it’s ingrained in our culture. Whether it’s teams plowing through banners or giant inflatable mascots, the pageantry of homecoming and senior night, or marching bands performing at halftime, there are many things Texans expect to see each fall related to high school pigskin.

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has altered many such traditions. Several months back, the Texas University Interscholastic League (UIL), which governs high school athletics, announced Class 5A and 6A schools couldn’t begin playing football or volleyball until late September. Both sports began as scheduled and are progressing through their respective seasons, and doing so before spectators, as Plano ISD is allowing attendance at 50 percent of usual capacity, requiring fans to wear face coverings and to socially distance in the bleachers.

As of late October, of the three Plano senior high schools with football teams, only one, Plano Senior, has had a football game canceled due to the pandemic. On Oct. 1, the Wildcats were scheduled to play in Rowlett, but a COVID-19 outbreak in Rowlett forced officials to cancel that contest.

“I think it’s gone very, very well,” Plano ISD Athletic Director Jeff Smith said of the district’s response thus far. “It’s a difficult situation for everybody, but just really proud of our team, our district and their leadership, our coaches who’ve been working with these kids trying to follow all the protocols to the letter and doing a really great job.”

Plano West Senior High coach and players // photo Jake Hester
Plano West Senior High football coach and players // photo Jake Hester

Among the protocols the district has instituted are having student-athletes pre-screen every morning by answering several questions about any symptoms they may or may not be experiencing and if they have been exposed to someone with COVID-19. Anytime a student-athlete answers yes to any of these questions, coaches are immediately alerted and appropriate action is taken.

Plano ISD has also shifted all ticketing for football and volleyball from in-person to online. On Sundays prior to an event, two tickets per family are available using the student’s ID card. Additional tickets, up to four, can be obtained on Wednesdays if available.

This change is earning high marks from parents. “Plano has handled it really well as far as the ticket sales,” said Jennifer Davis, whose son, Dylan, is a senior defensive back at Plano Senior High. “The process for getting tickets is very easy and allows them to keep the number [of fans manageable].”

Facility managers have also taped or marked off certain sections of seats at gyms and stadiums to encourage social distancing and help limit attendance.

At football games, the band and drill team no longer sit on the home side of the stadium. Both now sit across the field in the visiting section with all members at least six feet apart and wearing masks.

The band sits on the visitors' side at a Plano Senior High game // photo Kim Peichel Photography
The band sits on the visitors’ side at a Plano Senior High game // photo Kim Peichel Photography

Marching Band Makes Adjustments

Speaking of bands, several changes, like scrapping traditional uniforms – which require assistance to properly put on – for golf shirts, decreasing practice time and not having bands travel to most road games, have become the new norm. However, wearing golf shirts is nothing new as most schools wear them for the first few games of the season to abate the late-summer heat.

Still, band members and parents like Meryl Evans, whose son Zachary is a senior at Plano West, have adapted accordingly. “Marching band season is the one thing I look forward to every year since my son joined,” Meryl said. “He’s my youngest and the only one to do band. This year they’re performing a simpler show with far less marching. They’re doing the fight song and ‘Pride of the Pack’ but no external songs.”

On a positive note, bands are still performing at halftime of home games and at road games against other Plano schools.

Plano Senior High parent Kris Stevenson has two children in band, a daughter who plays tenor sax and a son who plays tuba. Along with Clark High band director Laura Sturch and Plano Senior band booster president Amy Sims, Kris and 80 fellow band parents teamed up to make covers for instruments which would allow members to still play while remaining safe.

Plano Senior High marching band instrument covers // photo Kim Peichel Photography
Plano Senior High marching band instrument covers // photo Kim Peichel Photography

“The kids were a little skeptical (at first),” Kris said. “But for the most part, I think they’re very receptive. They’re willing to do it and they figured it out.”

Besides her two kids currently in band, Kris’ two college-age children were also in band, so she enlisted them all to test out the instrument covers. “We have lots of instruments in the house, and every instrument is different. You have to have a slightly different design for every instrument,” she said. “Could not have done it if we hadn’t had them all because I can’t play any of the instruments. I was not a band kid, so their input was invaluable.”

In a year where many college sports have canceled their seasons, and others, like one division of college football, have shifted to the spring, parents like Galen Laprocido, whose son, James is a senior defensive tackle at West, is happy to see her son on the field. “I’m just really impressed that we haven’t had to shut down yet because some other football teams have had to forfeit games because some of the players have positives, but not us,” Galen said. “I think the seniors, they were afraid they weren’t going to get a senior season at all. That was creating some anxiety.”

Much like this year in general, the start of the 2020-21 school year, especially in terms of extracurricular activities, has required some adjustments on the part of coaches, the district, parents and students. However, even in such a surreal time, Plano ISD deserves kudos for how it has adapted.

“At the end of the day, our district is just trying to keep everyone safe,” the athletic director said. “The health and safety of our kids, our community members and everyone is why we’re doing all of these things.”

 

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