When it comes to local high school sports, it’s a tale of two counties

Published: Jul. 24, 2020 at 7:29 PM CDT
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(KWTX) - Two counties in Central Texas have issued orders that delay in-person instruction until after Labor Day, but one key difference has left smaller schools in one of the counties at a disadvantage.

Because of rising numbers of COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations, health authorities in McLennan and Bell counties issued orders this week delaying the start of in-person instruction in all private and public K-12 schools until after Sept.7, although religious schools are exempted because of an earlier ruling by Attorney General Ken Paxton, a ruling McLennan County’s order was amended to reflect on Friday.

Neither order affects remote instruction, but McLennan’s order extends to school-sponsored events and activities “including, but not limited to clubs, sports, fairs, exhibitions, academic and/or athletic competitions” while Bell County’s order provides exceptions for extracurricular activities at 1A, 2A, 3A and 4A high schools including band practice, volleyball, football and cross country practices, scrimmages, games and meets as allowed by the latest University Interscholastic League guidelines.

"When we reached out to schools we got several comments back about athletics and made the exception," Bell County health authority Janice Smith said in a conference call on Thursday.

McLennan County’s medical authority, Dr. Farley Verner said Wednesday he didn’t consult with area superintendents or athletic directors, but said his decision to issue the order was “based on epidemiological and public health issues.”

The latest UIL guidelines allow 1A to 4A schools to begin football and volleyball practice on Aug. 3, volleyball competition on Aug. 10 and football competition on Aug. 27, which means high schools in McLennan County classified as 4A or smaller could end up forfeiting games scheduled to be played in August and at a disadvantage in September.

Lorena ISD Superintendent Dr. Joe Kucera, whose 3A high school is covered by McLennan County’s order, says he understands the decision was not an easy one.

"Dr. Verner had a very tough decision and had to make a very tough call," Kucera said.

"If he (Verner) feels like it is the best decision for our community, I support that 100%," he said.

However, Kucera says if there is a possibility his students can take part in extracurricular activities as Bell County’s order permits, he would love to explore those options.

"If data shows we shouldn't return I understand that," he said.

"At the same time, if other places like Bell can do the order with a slight modification, I would like for it to be considered for McLennan County and my students."

Kucera also says he would love for the UIL to make a change as well, because a delay in the start of Lorena’s football and volleyball seasons would put the Leopards behind other teams in the state.

"Maybe the UIL can make an adjustment that gives us an opportunity to compete," he says.

"I think the biggest thing is we don't want to be in a situation where we have to forfeit a game because we can't play."

Lorena’s Dist. 11 opponents include Caldwell Cameron, Little River-Academy, McGregor, Rockdale and Troy.

Only McGregor is in McLennan County.

Copyright 2020 KWTX. All rights reserved.

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