Monthly archive

April 2020

SPRING SEASONS SILENCED

in Reporting

UIL cancels all remaining activities, Heart of Texas reacts

AUSTIN – As Winston Churchill once said, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

But especially for the Class of 2020, those words of wisdom don’t make it any less painful.

With Friday’s announcement from Governor Greg Abbott that all Texas schools will remain closed to in-person learning for the remainder of this 2019-20 school year due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, the University Interscholastic League (UIL) followed suit by cancelling all remaining spring activities and state championships in an effort to help protect the health and safety of our youth.

The decision to cancel school and all related activities represents an unprecedented abrupt end and disappointing conclusion to the secondary educational experience for the graduating Class of 2020 across the state.

“Our staff had been working hard on plans to resume activities this spring, but without schools in session, interscholastic activities cannot continue,” said UIL Executive Director Dr. Charles Breithaupt. “Our highest priority during this challenging time is ensuring the health and safety of our students and communities and making progress in the containment of COVID-19 in Texas.

“We are now turning our attention to the 2020-2021 school year.”

For the first time in more than 100 years, Gov. Abbott proclaimed a public health disaster in Texas March 19 due to coronavirus. In response, the UIL extended its suspension of all UIL-sanctioned activities indefinitely due to the pandemic.

In Texas, shutdowns have occurred only twice before due to two pandemics involving the H1N1 influenza virus: the 2009 swine flu pandemic and the 1918 influenza pandemic.

Although UIL officials postponed all public high school athletic and academic competitions in 2009, Texas schools returned to action after a two weeks layoff. But in 1918, activities were halted in early October and did not resume throughout the remainder of the school year.

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic suspension, the UIL expressed the unwillingness to pull the plug on the winter and spring academic and athletic activities, even going so far as address that games and contests could resume after allowing its member schools a reasonable acclimatization period for practices to occur.

But when Gov. Abbott held a press conference at noon Friday, he issued three new Executive Orders to begin the process of reopening the state of Texas while revising hospital capacity and certain social distancing guidelines.

The Governor’s second Executive Order (GA-16) related to the safe, strategic reopening of select services and activities in Texas. On the surface, that sounded like good news. But under this Executive Order, schools—including public, private, and higher education institutions—will be closed for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year.

Teachers may go into the classroom for video instruction, to perform administrative duties, and to clean out their classrooms. But practices, rehearsals, and workouts remain suspended until further notice, while allowing remote instruction to remain in place. The UIL will continue to follow the direction of state authorities and will work closely with member schools to navigate this unprecedented time.

The University Interscholastic League was created by The University of Texas at Austin to provide leadership and guidance to public school debate and athletic teachers. Since 1910, the UIL has grown into the largest inter-school organization of its kind in the world.

The UIL exists to provide educational extracurricular academic, athletic and music contests. The initials UIL have come to represent quality educational competition administered by school people on an equitable basis.

“I am grateful to the UIL staff for their leadership and dedication to students,” said UIL Legislative Council Chair Curtis Rhodes. “Together, we will get through this and we look forward to the day students are once again able to participate in education-based interscholastic activities.”

In addition to spring activities such as baseball, softball, track & field, tennis and golf , the Boys State Basketball Tournament concluding the winter sports schedule was lost. The Girls State Championship games were played March 5-7 before the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic on March 11, the first such declaration in 11 years, leading the UIL suspension of activities.

“It was extremely disappointing to get the news that the remainder of our competitions have been cancelled,” Clifton athletic director Chuck Caniford said. “Our student-athletes have worked extremely hard, and for them to have it all cancelled before they were able to finish the year is extremely difficult. We were experiencing some great success and were so excited about the possibilities.”

HITTING CLOSE TO HOME

With graduating seniors of their own in the Class of 2020, Caniford and Meridian athletic director Wade Morton must come to grips on a personal level with the casualties of the cancellations.

“The decision by the UIL to cancel the remainder of the year was the right decision,” Morton said. “I have a senior of my own, and she’s heavily involved in sports. To not see her compete is disappointing, but her safety and the safety of all our athletes is the most important.

“Like I told my senior, this is an event in your life and how you respond to it determines your outcome. We can’t control an event that happens, but we can control how we react to it.”

While understanding the need to shut down and the valid reasons behind making the tough decision, coaches, parents and athletes alike still struggled with a sense of loss and regret over what might have been.

“This breaks my heart,” said Kristie Brandenberger of Clifton in a Facebook post. “I have been handling the situation with always looking for the positives, but after seeing this… I know it’s for the best and God had this planned from the day they were born.

“So, the seniors will use this to help shape them into what lies ahead and make it bigger and better than we all dreamed for them.”

As a parent to a graduating senior in the Class of 2020 as well as a coach to all Cub seniors, Caniford can relate to the disappointments from all directions.

“It is especially tough for our seniors,” Caniford said. “Not only do they miss out on finishing their competition seasons, but they miss out on so many of the things that they looked forward to in their last semester of high school.

“This is a special group to me personally. This is the first group of 7th graders we had when we got here, and I’ve had the pleasure of watching them grow and mature. I am confident that the achievements they had in high school will pale in comparison to what they will accomplish in life.”

Participating in athletics teaches students essential skills that they will use throughout their lives, such as effort, determination, self-discipline, team work and time management. But the impact of the coronavirus pandemic has forced the student-athlete to experience an unexpected life lesson.

“The greatest value of athletics for these kids is that it teaches the lessons that they can fall back on in life,” Caniford said. “This situation is a great opportunity for that. We always talk about controlling the controllables and not wasting time and energy on things that we can’t control. This is one of those situations. It is out of all of our control and we have to focus on how we move forward.”

FOCUSING ON THE FUTURE

As Breithaupt suggested, it’s now time to focus on planning for the 2020-21 school year. And with that, coaches have expressed concern that classes and the fall sports seasons could be impacted by the pandemic as well.

At the same time, summer workouts will be even more important than ever, as athletes will need to get conditioned for the road ahead after the spring layoff. But even though nobody really knows what will happen, Morton looks forward to the first day back.

“Kids will come back with a sense of urgency never seen before,” Morton said. “They’re having to persevere through all of this like everyone else and will come back more resilient and stronger than ever. To be honest, I can’t wait to see them and how they respond.”

But first, school officials must wrestle with how to say goodbye to the Class of 2020 while adhering to social distancing protocol.

“For our seniors, this is not the end but the beginning,” Caniford said. “It hurts right now, but this is something that they can use to fall back on in the future. It’s a real world reminder that nothing in life is guaranteed, and we have to cherish every moment we have. The only reality is the present, and we have to not only take advantage of every day, but appreciate each one we have.

“The class of 2020 will not be remembered for what happened to them, but rather for how they responded and for all that they accomplished.”

Photos by DAVID HARDING, WENDY OROZCO & SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS

©2020 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

WINNING GOING AWAY: Lady Cubs ride three-game district win streak into COVID-19 shutdown

in Softball

CLIFTON – In the midst of winning eight of their last nine games, the Clifton Lady Cubs opened District 17-3A competition with three straight victories before their momentum came to a screeching halt when the UIL shutdown the season due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite being on Spring Break March 9-13, Clifton (3-0 in district, 9-7 overall) swept back-to-back, home-and-away district games against defending co-district champion Whitney to take the early driver’s seat in the pennant chase.

After blanking the Lady Wildcats, 7-0, in the first of the two-game series March 10, the Lady Cubs held off a late rally to edge Whitney, 3-2, March 13. Handling the pitching duties in both games, Savanah Gayle surrendered only one earned run in 14 innings of work from the circle.

“As we started off district being 3-0, we gained confidence in ourselves,” Clifton softball head coach Sam Ledlow said. “Beating Whitney was one of the goals set by our returning seniors, and accomplishing that back-to -back set the tone for our standard of competitiveness.

“This group of seniors is a special group to me. I have seen them grow and develop in their athletic ability from the seventh grade. They have been a fun group to coach and encourage as we developed a trusting coach-to-player relationship.”

In the first game against Whitney, Clifton built a seven-run lead after four innings, scoring one in the second, four in the third, and two more in the fourth. Kamryn Kettler drove in three runs while going two-for-three at the plate with two doubles, Daniella Gaona went three-for-three with an RBI, and Gayle helped her own cause going two-for-three with a run scored and another batted in.

“We adjusted well at the plate, and our defense played excellent behind Savanah’s pitching,” Ledlow said. “I’m proud of the way we played last night, and we will keep improving on little things to keep moving up the ladder.”

And that’s exactly what the Lady Cubs did three days later in Whitney. But the win did not come nearly as easy.

Clifton built an early 3-0 lead as Kynli Bearden knocked in two runs and Kamryn Kettler drove in another while Bailey Ledbetter walked three times and scored twice. In the meantime, Gayle scattered eight Whitney hits and pitched out of trouble in the bottom of the sixth before locking down the win in the seventh.

But following the thrill of victory on the field, the Lady Cubs received the disappointing news of the shutdown on the way home.

After advancing to the Class 3A playoffs as the district’s fourth place team in 2019, the Lady Cubs opened this season by losing six of their first seven games.  But Clifton continued to improve through the losses, building on that experience to take their game to the next level.

“I know all of us have been looking forward to this season and what these girls could accomplish,” Ledlow said. “This crisis has us all standing on edge as we wait to hear how or if we will get to finish this season.

“This team is a very determined group of young ladies. And I have no doubt that if we get to finish this season, we will be ready to get back on the dirt, picking up where we left off.”

Photos by DAVID HARDING

©2020 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

PUTTING GOALS ON HOLD: Clifton hopes to return to playoffs when baseball season resumes

in Baseball

CLIFTON – Coming off a District 17-3A baseball championship and Class 3A Regional Semifinals appearance, the Clifton Cubs carried high expectations into the 2020 campaign as the state’s 16th-ranked team in the TxHighSchoolBaseball.com Class 3A preseason poll.

After a bumpy ride through a highly-competitive non-district schedule, the Cubs appeared poised to make a run at their eighth straight trip to the playoffs when the UIL shutdown the season due to the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic March 13.

With a host of seniors among five returning starters and nine returning lettermen from a squad finishing with an impressive 28-7 record while losing only one district game, the Cubs anxiously await the chance to resume play. Led by senior district MVP and first-team, all-state pitcher Mason Brandenberger and senior first-team, all-district catcher Riley Perry, Clifton hopes to make its second trip to the state tournament in three years.

“The expectations every year is to compete for the district championship and make a deep run in the playoffs,” said Clifton baseball head coach Brian Slater, who has posted a 160-74-6 record leading the Cubs. “We are being led by a large senior class of eight, and we are leaning on their experience and leadership to help guide us through the season. We look to continue to improve when the season resumes, and we look forward to competing and maximizing our potential as a team.”

Before the UIL suspended all Spring sports, Clifton (0-1 in district, 5-8 overall) stayed busy during Spring Break beginning March 7, traveling to Salado for a non-district game March 9 before returning home to host Whitney in the District 17-3A opener March 10.

Unfortunately for the Cubs, after suffering a 6-0 loss at Salado, Whitney handed Clifton a decisive 7-2 district opening loss. The Wildcats (1-0, 8-6) snapped a scoreless tie with two runs in the fourth inning before tacking on three more in the fifth.

The Cubs responded with a two-run spot in the sixth as senior Hayden Newton knocked in Brandenberger for Clifton’s first run before senior Mason Ochoa delivered a run-scoring triple. But Whitney put the game away by answering with two runs in the seventh.

Refusing to stay down, the Cubs took their frustrations out on Tolar by sweeping a non-district doubleheader at home March 12.

Clifton’s bats came alive against Tolar, slapping 11 hits to run-rule the Rattlers, 13-3, in the opener behind a solid mound effort from sophomore Griffin Phillips. The Cubs built an early lead by scoring two in the first and five more in the second, giving Phillips a chance to settle down and toss four straight scoreless innings while striking out five.

At the plate, Newton went two-for-four to drive in three runs, while Perry sent two-for-four scoring two runs and knocking in another, and Phillips helped his own cause by going two-for-four with two runs scored and an RBI.

The second game proved to be anything but a blowout as Tolar put up three runs in the first inning. As Clifton trailed, 3-0, with only two outs in the first, sophomore Matthew Bronstad took the mound and shut down the Rattlers as the Cubs mounted a comeback. Bronstad pitched the final 6.1 innings, allowing only one earned run while striking out six.

In the meantime, Clifton answered the early Tolar outburst with two runs of their own in the bottom of the first before tying the score with another run in the third. Behind the bats of Brandenberger, Perry, Newton, Ochoa and Phillips, the Cubs took a two-run advantage in the fourth before holding off a Rattler rally to secure a 5-4 win.

With the momentum of back-to-back victories to build on, the Cubs appeared ready to resume district competition when Clifton heard the disappointing news of the shutdown.

Responding to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order mandating public schools remain temporarily closed through Monday, May 4 due to COVID-19 crisis, the UIL further modified its contingency plans last Friday, extending its previously announced timeline indefinitely for completing activities this academic school year.

As a result of the extension, the UIL will need to alter and rework a timeline for returning to competition built around school resuming May 4. As that date approaches, UIL plans to monitor all available information and provide member schools with more specific guidance on district and post-season date adjustments related to this new extension, as well as allowing a reasonable acclimatization period prior to resuming games.

Once that happens, the Cubs will be ready.

Photos by DAVID HARDING

©2020 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

ONE FOR THE ROAD: Jackets post season’s first win on eve of shutdown, pound Hico

in Baseball

MERIDIAN – Despite seeing their 2020 high school baseball season shutdown indefinitely, the Meridian Yellowjackets have something to feel good about as they wait out the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

Led at the plate and on the mound by senior Matt Rosas, the Jackets posted a convincing 11-1 District 14-2A victory over the Hico Tigers in an early afternoon game March 13. After giving up a first-inning run, Meridian rallied for three in the third before run-ruling Hico with an eight-run fifth.

“We’re limited on pitching, and the victory was a positive thing for our kids,” Meridian baseball head coach Darrell Hogan said. “They’ve been working hard and are very young.”

Rosas, last season’s district defensive MVP, tossed a two-hit, complete game, striking out 10 and walking only one in five innings of work. At the plate, Rosas led the Jackets (1-1 in district, 1-3 overall) by going three-for-three with a double, scoring two runs and knocking in two more.

With the Jackets more than doubling their run-scoring total for the season in the game, junior Julian Monrreal collected two runs batted in, Alejandro Rodriguez scored three times, and junior catcher Dylan Poole reached base twice, scoring a run and knocking in another.

As both teams walked off the field, the University Interscholastic League announced the suspension of all Spring sports due to the COVID-19 crisis.

“This situation we’re dealing with is unprecedented in my coaching career, which goes back to 1991,” Hogan said. “It’s something new that we’re all dealing with. And you know, it makes you think about things in life that are really important and what matters most, which is God, family and team.

With only four returning starters coming off a 2-16 campaign in 2019, the Jackets opened this season with three straight losses as Itasca, Blum and Bruceville-Eddy combined to outscore Meridian, 61-5.

But by knocking off Hico (0-2, 1-3), the Jackets moved into a three-way tie for third place in district behind Valley Mills (2-0, 8-5-1) and Bosqueville (1-0, 8-1-1).

After experiencing the excitement of their first win in a key district contest, the Jackets heard the disappointing news of the shutdown.

Responding to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order mandating public schools remain temporarily closed through Monday, May 4 due to COVID-19 crisis, the UIL further modified its contingency plans last Friday, extending its previously announced timeline indefinitely for completing activities this academic school year.

As a result of the extension, the UIL will need to alter and rework a timeline for returning to competition built around school resuming May 4. As that date approaches, UIL plans to monitor all available information and provide member schools with more specific guidance on district and post-season date adjustments related to this new extension, as well as allowing a reasonable acclimatization period prior to resuming games.

“As human beings, we do have the ability to adjust and overcome to the situation that we are dealt with, and that’s exactly what we’re going to have to do in this recent dilemma,” Hogan said. “We need to trust in our leaders and believe they are doing what is best that is to keep us all safe.

“You know the bigger picture is that this impacts millions and millions of lives throughout the world. And what we really need to focus on is doing the right things to keep everyone healthy so that when this has passed, we can go right back to focusing where we need to be. We need lots of prayers.”

Photos by WENDY OROZCO

©2020 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

STOPPAGE IN PLAY EXTENDED

in Reporting

UIL follows Gov. Abbott’s lead by suspending competition indefinitely

AUSTIN – As we collectively brace ourselves for what could become the worst of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, the University Interscholastic League (UIL) continued to offer hope that all will not be lost to students, athletes, sponsors and coaches across Texas.

Responding to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order mandating public schools remain temporarily closed through Monday, May 4 due to COVID-19 crisis, the UIL further modified its contingency plans Friday, extending its previously announced timeline indefinitely for completing activities this academic school year.

“We are urging our member schools and their communities to stay vigilant and take every possible precaution to remain safe and healthy,” said UIL Executive Director Dr. Charles Breithaupt.  “We understand there is a lot of uncertainty during this unprecedented time. Please know UIL leadership is working diligently to adjust to this rapidly evolving situation and will share updates as soon as possible.”

For the first time in more than 100 years, Gov. Abbott proclaimed a public health disaster in Texas March 19 due to coronavirus. In response, the UIL extended its suspension of all UIL-sanctioned activities indefinitely due to the pandemic, stating that all contests, practices, rehearsals and workouts would remain suspended until further notice.

Not ready to pull the plug on the winter and spring academic and athletic activities, the UIL went on to earmark May 4 as the earliest games and contests could resume after allowing its member schools a reasonable acclimatization period for practices to occur.

But by modifying his previous executive order, Gov. Abbott extended the statewide social distancing policy through April 30, limiting business operations to essential services. And with the order, schools will remain closed statewide through May 4, unless otherwise extended.

“Let me start off today by expressing my gratitude to all our fellow Texans for your tremendous efforts over the last few weeks to slow the spread of the coronavirus,” Gov. Abbott said during his press conference Tuesday afternoon. “By staying at home, by reducing personal interactions you are saving lives, and you are improving the health of people across our entire state.”

“One thing that is clear. When you look around your community, distancing practices that you are doing are working. There are fewer people out there that can transmit the disease from one person to another. But as President Trump said just two days ago, now is not the time for us to let up in these distancing efforts. Now is the time instead to double our efforts, to make sure we do more to rid ourselves of the coronavirus.”

In Texas, shutdowns have occurred only twice before due to two pandemics involving the H1N1 influenza virus: the 2009 swine flu pandemic and the 1918 influenza pandemic.

Although UIL officials postponed all public high school athletic and academic competitions in 2009, Texas schools returned to action after a two weeks layoff. But in 1918, activities were halted in early October and did not resume throughout the remainder of the school year.

Since 2010, the flu has killed between 12,000 and 61,000 Americans a year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In comparison, the 1918-1919 flu pandemic killed 675,000 in the United States.

According to national advisers on the pandemic, 12 models of the coronavirus’s spread in the United States predicted a worst case scenario of between 1.6 million and 2.2 million fatalities, if Americans did not practice social distancing and take other mitigation measures.

“Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before the victory is won,” President Donald Trump said at his news conference last Sunday evening. “That would be the greatest loss of all.”

As a result of the extension, the UIL will need to alter and rework a timeline for returning to competition built around school resuming May 4. As that date approaches, UIL plans to monitor all available information and provide member schools with more specific guidance on district and post-season date adjustments related to this new extension.

As it stands, the Spring activities have been postponed and the Boys State Basketball Tournament has been suspended. The Girls State Championship games were played March 5-7 before the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic on March 11, the first such declaration in 11 years, leading the UIL suspension of activities.

“I know if you are a parent, you are worried about your students and the lack of opportunity for them to compete this spring, especially the parents with seniors who are finishing their high school careers,” Breithault said in a video statement on the UIL website. “I know and realize you are anxious to get back into competition. And we, as a staff, are working deligently to make that happen.

“I want to thank our students too for being patient and working on their own, continuing their education and continuing to prepare for competition when it returns. I know you’re anxious, and I’m anxious for you. Our staff is working around the clock to do all they can to make these activities alive again. And as soon as schools can resume, we’ll continue the UIL competitions for the 2020 school year.”

The University Interscholastic League was created by The University of Texas at Austin to provide leadership and guidance to public school debate and athletic teachers. Since 1910, the UIL has grown into the largest inter-school organization of its kind in the world.

The UIL exists to provide educational extracurricular academic, athletic and music contests. The initials UIL have come to represent quality educational competition administered by school people on an equitable basis.

During this pandemic interruption window, all in-person practices, rehearsals and workouts remain suspended until further notice and remote instruction remains in place. The UIL remains committed to providing a reasonable acclimatization period for rehearsals and practices to occur prior to resuming contests and games.

This acclimatization period may include the opportunity to compete in tournaments, meets and invitational competitions. The UIL will provide more guidance and specificity on this in the coming weeks to allow time for coaches to plan and prepare. But in the meantime, plans should not be made for district competition prior to receiving this additional information.

“We ask for your patience in receiving that communication,” the UIL’s Susan Elza said in a letter to athletic directors and coaches. “We are hopeful, as you all are, that we can get back to completing each respective sport season and will provide specific guidance and information on how that will look upon return.

“Keep in mind that due to reduced calendar dates, there will be modifications in qualifying structures as wells as timelines for district and post season events.”

During statewide school suspension, remote learning and coaching of UIL activities will be allowed through electronic, video or teleconferencing type methods. Schools must limit instruction for UIL activities to a maximum of eight hours per week per activity, in addition to a maximum of sixty minutes per day Monday through Friday.

“We are both amazed and appreciative of the leadership of our athletic directors and coaches,” Elza said. “We are inspired by the work that continues in a challenging environment and the creativity of the remote coaching that directly benefits the athletes across the state. Stay strong, stay dedicated and continue your intentional leadership.”

©2020 Southern Cross Creative, LLP. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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