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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.”

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