Coaches hustle to schedule changes due to COVID-19

Staff Writer
Stephenville Empire-Tribune
Stephenville High School lineman Daniel Luna (52) wraps up a China Spring ball carrier who had nowhere to run, surrounded by Harrison Barkley (21) and Austin Stidham (9), among others, during last season's district football opener. An announcement about the start of the season from the University Interscholastic League this week has left football programs around the state scrambling to update their schedules.

COVID-19 pandemic precautions forced unexpected fall sports scheduling changes for many schools across the state of Texas, including Stephenville High School.

The latest announcements from the University Interscholastic League this week state that Class 5A and 6A schools won’t be allowed to play their first regular-season football games until Sept. 24. But that also wreaked havoc on Stephenville’s schedule, even though the Yellow Jackets compete in Class 4A Division I.

Texas public schools at the Class 4A size and smaller currently have a green light — as of now — to start on time. That means that Stephenville High School's regular-season football slate can start on time, Friday, Aug. 28. However, the Yellow Jackets' non-district schedule lost two 5A opponents that had to be replaced. SHS Athletic Director Jerod Womack and head football coach Sterling Doty scrambled to quickly find replacement teams. They were able to fill those two voids.

“For us it was great news that we get to start (football workouts) on the third (of August),” Doty said Wednesday, reacting to Tuesday’s UIL announcements. “Our kids were excited, and rightfully so — and our coaches and administration as well.

“We will continue to put health in the No. 1 position. We’ve been very successful in keeping our guys healthy.”

Three SHS football players had tested positive for the COVID-19 virus early on during offseason strength and conditioning workouts, and all three have completed their required home quarantine time.

SHS was able to replace its Sept. 4 home game with Lampasas, and the Sept. 18 road game with Melissa. The original schedule had the Yellow Jackets playing Everman and Abilene Wylie on those dates.

Lampasas is No. 3 in the state among Class 4A Division I schools in Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine’s preseason rankings. Melissa, No. 19 in the magazine’s 4A Division I preseason rankings, is usually a highly competitive playoff team — from the same district as perennial state powerhouse Argyle.

However, another complication presented itself when McClennan County health officials announced a partial shutdown, possibly delaying the start of football for all Waco public schools. The Sept. 25 non-district game on the SHS schedule had been slated to be a home game against Class 4A Waco Connally. SHS may also have to find a replacement for Connally for that week, which is the week before the Yellow Jackets’ regularly scheduled open date.

As of press time Friday, the Connally scheduling situation was still unresolved. School officials hope to make an announcement about that game and release the final 2020 football season schedule next week, along with new schedules for the volleyball and cross country teams.

The football scrimmage schedule was also affected by the COVID-19 problem.

Because Class 5A Granbury won't be able to take on SHS in the first preseason football scrimmage, the Jackets instead will have only one scrimmage date, Aug. 20, at home against Glen Rose (varsity at 6:30 p.m.).

The rest of the regular-season football schedule — again, for now — is still the same, including the season opener Aug. 28, at Sweetwater. All regular-season games for SHS that are now set will have 7:30 p.m. kickoff times.

Doty also noted that the date for the annual SHS Blue/Gold preseason intrasquad scrimmage, originally planned for Aug. 8, may have to be changed to a different date. That announcement is also pending.

Sterling Doty