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Local coaches react to summer mask mandate for athletes

The University Interscholastic League announced on Wednesday new requirements for Texas schools, including one for all students and staff engaging in summer workouts, practices or rehearsals on school campuses to wear a facemask.

“Executive Order GA-29, regarding face coverings, applies to all UIL activities effective July 3, 2020,” the update on the UIL’s website reads. “This includes all 2020 summer activities and in-season activities for the 2020-2021 school year. As the public health situation changes, and/or if subsequent Executive Orders are issued by Governor Greg Abbott, these guidelines may be further modified.”

For athletes in particular, students must be wearing masks but only while they are not exercising. Indoors or outdoors, though, masks are to be worn.

That’s going to be the way Port Neches-Groves staff will implement the new requirements.

“We’ll do exactly what the UIL says,” PNG athletic director Brandon Faircloth said. “When they’re not working out they’ll have a mask on. We’re not going to change anything else. We’re still going to make sure they stay six feet away from each other, still make sure there’s 25 percent [occupancy] in the weight room like we have been since the very beginning.”

PNG will ask its athletes to bring their own masks, as personal masks are likely going to be more comfortable, Faircloth said.

“Kids have been wearing masks around town,” he said. “To me there’s not a whole lot of change. Now it’s ‘bring your mask’ and when you’re not working out, put it on. I think it’s a pretty easy implementation.”

Faircloth will talk with coaches today (July 9) about what might change when athletes return to campus on July 13, though he says the current arrangements have been working out well enough that they may not even change anything, other than implementing the mask requirements.

The UIL also will allow competitive drills, with one or more athletes on offense and one or more on defense, to begin next Monday.

“We really like how it went the first month, to be perfectly honest with you, just with a bunch of drills and social distancing,” Faircloth said.

Memorial had already been discussing masks before a female student had come to practice with a fever and a male athlete tested positive for COVID-19, prompting the Port Arthur school to suspend workouts for football, volleyball and girls basketball and soccer.

“When we were out the first time we were going to return on July 3,” first-year head volleyball coach Debra Harris said. “We had already known that the kids were going to have to wear masks, get a temperature check. Also they were going to have hand sanitizers and have to sanitize all the balls and anything they touch.

“We had already been discussing that. The girls knew, the coaches knew, I had already talked to Coach [Brian] Morgan about it, and it was something that was already in place.”

Harris had only been to a few days of summer workouts when the athlete was found to have fever.

“We started off pretty good with our first good week,” Harris said. “I got to see a couple of days before we had to shut down because of the young lady. Basically I’m just going in and seeing what I and my coaches can put together, and get them back on task, put a good solid varsity team together, a thriving JV team that can feed into us and work on our freshmen with fundamentals.”

When the Memorial athletes come back July 13, they will be organized into smaller groups, and will also no longer practice for multiple sports to help keep practice groups more isolated.

“That might help,” Harris said. “We’re thinking and trying to come up with a good plan. It’s just unfortunate that this is the norm until things clear up.”

Harris is staying positive, and trying to keep the volleyball team positive too.

“It’s been hard,” she said. “They’re not in school. They’ve not been able to socialize. Young people are resilient, but this is different for them. They come in and we just stay positive and keep everything going. If something transpires and we have to shut it down, we shut it down and quarantine and we stay in touch with each other. That’s the best we can do right now, and I’m just going to remain optimistic.”