ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
As schools figure out their coronavirus plans for the fall semester, a big question is what happens with high school sports. States like California, Washington and New Mexico have postponed many fall sports to the spring. But in Texas, where Friday nights in the fall are for football, public schools are going to give athletics a go. Michael Marks from member station KUT has more.
MICHAEL MARKS, BYLINE: This is a big season for the Fulshear High School volleyball team.
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MARKS: The Chargers won the school's first state championship last year, and they've got a lot of experienced players returning. But as coronavirus cases in Texas rose, then fell, then rose again, it became less and less clear whether they'd get a chance to defend their title.
SYDNEY GOTCHER: You know, worried about my seniors not having their senior season. And to not have that would've just been devastating.
MARKS: That's the team's head coach, Sydney Gotcher. She breathed a sigh of relief last week, though, when the high school sports governing body known as the UIL announced its plan for the fall. Sports and activities like marching band got the go-ahead, with smaller schools starting on the normal date and bigger schools following a month later. Since bigger schools tend to be in areas with more coronavirus cases, the delay is supposed to help slow down the spread. Jamey Harrison is with the UIL.
JAMEY HARRISON: Given all of the challenges, the variety of ways that COVID-19 is impacting different communities across Texas, this is the best solution we could develop based on what we know today.
MARKS: Harrison said the UIL would only cancel fall sports as a last resort, but schools can choose to opt out. It's a decision athletic directors like Cheryl Fillmore are grappling with.
CHERYL FILLMORE: I guess the thing that I'm most concerned with is the fear that this disease, this terrible disease could affect our community. And so with that, it's like, is it really safe to allow our kids to come back?
MARKS: Fillmore is the AD at West Oso High School in Corpus Christi. The district's schools will open on August 24, and the first few weeks will mostly be online. But the school's volleyball and football teams can start practicing well before that.
FILLMORE: Being that there's not face-to-face instruction, if they can't do that, is it really safe for them to come back to the athletic arena? We have a concern about that.
MARKS: Schools are required to follow certain social distancing guidelines. But coaches realize that even if they play by the book, there's no guarantee that they'll get a whole season. There's at least an opportunity, though.
RODNEY WEBB: You know, I think if we're following the rules like we should - and we will as coaches - I think there's a reasonable chance we're going to be able to navigate our way through this.
MARKS: That's Rodney Webb, president of the Texas High School Coaches Association and the head coach of the Denton Guyer High School football team. As things currently stand, he doesn't see calling off or delaying the season.
WEBB: You know, a lot of people say, oh, there's the football coach talking. He just wants to get his football fix in. Our kids need this diversion. Our schools need it. Our communities need it. It is woven into the fabric of our society. Those Friday nights are a microcosm of all that's good in our society.
MARKS: The question that parents, principals and superintendents across the country have to answer is whether the good that comes out of those Friday nights is worth the risk that comes with them.
For NPR News, I'm Michael Marks in Austin, Texas.
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