FORT WORTH, Texas — A stern warning from the University Interscholastic League surrounding high school football fans better adhering to COVID-19 regulations earlier this week was mostly met with compliance Friday night in Fort Worth by at least two school districts.
Castleberry hosted Pilot Point in a non-district game that truly showed one thing: everything under the Friday Night Lights looks and sounds different in the era of COVID-19.
A counter kept stadium capacity to 50% at the door, temperature checks were performed on every fan, masks were required to enter, and fans were asked to space out as well as stay in groups of four as they were seated.
A reminder about social distancing and wearing masks during the game was played over loudspeakers at the stadium and to top it off, a police officer with a bullhorn walked by fans and called people out who weren't properly spaced.
The guidelines are rigid, but it's what the UIL is requiring for high school sporting events.
Castleberry ISD Athletic Director Lenny Lasher told WFAA that it's not an easy task, but added its what needs to happen so students have a season.
"We haven't had kids competing since last March," Lasher said. "We're really taking it one week at a time. COVID-19 really presents some challenges."
Lasher was running a tight ship at W.O. Barnes Stadium Friday night, because he knows the UIL isn't messing around.
5A and 6A schools will begin playing later this month, but some 4A schools began their football seasons last week.
Images surfaced online of fans not spacing out and not wearing masks.
The UIL fired back with a letter this week that read in part:
"Athletic Directors and Football Coaches,
As we continue into fall seasons, it is critical that schools are diligent in these risk-mitigation guidelines.
Schools are still required to follow Governor Abbott's Executive Order GA-29 related to face coverings.
Schools may allow spectators to attend contests up to a maximum of 50% of the venue's capacity, provided appropriate spacing as prescribed in the guidelines is maintained.
UIL has posted some sample pre-game and public address announcements online that schools may help remind spectators of the guidelines to be followed.
Schools not following these guidelines are subject to sanctions, including suspension of contests or discontinuation of public access to games by the local UIL District Executive Committee and/or UIL State Executive Committee."
Gov. Abbott's GA-29 states every person in Texas shall wear a face covering over the nose and mouth when inside a commercial entity or other building or space open to the public, or when in an outdoor public space, wherever it is not feasible to maintain six feet of social distancing from another person not in the same household.
However, the face-covering requirement does not apply to the following:
- Any person younger than 10 years of age;
- Any person with a medical condition or disability that prevents wearing a face covering;
- Any person while the person is consuming food or drink, or is seated at a restaurant to eat or drink;
- Any person while the person is (a) exercising outdoors or engaging in physical activity outdoors, and (b) maintaining a safe distance from other people not in the same household;
- Any person while the person is driving alone or with passengers who are part of the same household as the driver;
- Any person obtaining a service that requires temporary removal of the face-covering for security surveillance, screening, or a need for specific access to the face, such as while visiting a bank or while obtaining a personal care service involving the face, but only to the extent necessary for the temporary removal; 7
- Any person while the person is in a swimming pool, lake, or similar body of water;
- Any person who is voting, assisting a voter, serving as a poll watcher, or actively administering an election, but wearing a face-covering is strongly encouraged;
- Any person who is actively providing or obtaining access to religious worship, but wearing a face-covering is strongly encouraged;
- Any person while the person is giving a speech for broadcast or to an audience; or
- Any person in a county (a) that meets the requisite criteria promulgated by the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) regarding minimal cases of COVID-19, and (b) whose county judge has affirmatively opted-out of this face-covering requirement by filing with TDEM the required face-covering attestation form—provided, however, that wearing a face-covering is highly recommended, and every county is strongly encouraged to follow these face-covering standards.
With the possibility of sanctions or losing games on the line, two Pilot Point parents with seniors on the football team and cheer squad said they were prepared to wear a mask for the rest of the season.
"Every game that they're going to have, we're happy for," parent Champ Walker said, who has a daughter on the cheer squad. "Politically speaking, I'm not a sheep. But I would do anything to watch these kids play. If that means minding the rules, that's fine."
Bob Haynes has a son on the offensive line for Pilot Point and echoed a similar sentiment.
After all, these are memories you don't get to make twice.
"I was going to be sick if they didn't have a season," Haynes said. "If this is what I have to do, this is what I'll do."