To be or not to be -- that is the question for high school football
School starts -- fingers crossed -- in three weeks. For a select group of Avoyelles Parish high school students, their studies and lessons began a few weeks ago.
They're the young men who hope to represent the three high school football teams on the "field of honor" this fall. Of course, with the proviso "the governor willing and the infection rate don't rise."
Marksville, Bunkie and Avoyelles athletes reported for training shortly after the state entered Phase II of the "reopening" from the COVID-19 pandemic. At that time, it looked like the state would be able to progress to Phase III in late June or early July, but the virus made a comeback.
That hasn't stopped the football teams from preparing for a season that seems will be delayed at best and canceled at worst. The Louisiana High School Athletic Association voted Monday not to play football until the state enters Phase 4 of the recovery plan.
"In a perfect world, we would be practicing in full pads on Aug.17," Marksville Coach J.T.Dunbar said. "You and I know that the governor does not look like he is going to take us to Phase 3 before school starts. If he did, we would be in Phase 3 for about three weeks before we might go into Phase 4."
If that would happen, the season "would be pushed back two weeks, but we would still play this year."
Under the recent LHSAA decision, summer rules for practices end Aug. 10. No sports will be allowed under Phase 1. In Phase 2, cross country and swimming will proceed as normal and volleyball teams are allowed to scrimmage among themselves.The LHSAA chart indicates football teams will not be able to practice during Phase 2. They can practice in Phase 3 and play scrimmages and games in Phase 4.
Despite the uncertainty hanging over the season, Dunbar said he considers the schools to be fortunate to have been able to practice as they did during the last few weeks. All three teams operated under the same restrictions and guidelines during the recent practices, which included basic COVID protocols such as masks, social distancing, etc.
"We're just rolling with the punches," Bunkie Coach Nick Pujol said with a chuckle. "From the beginning I told our guys that we would have to be out of Phase 3 before we could play. I told them to prepare as if we were going to play, but I did not guarantee them there would be a season," Pujol said.
"I told them to prepare for a different kind of season," he continued. "It could be that we play one game and its closed down. Maybe the season could be six games. We don't know. We have to practice every practice like it's our last one, because it could be."
Avoyelles High Coach Andy Boone said this has been the best summer practice he has ever had.
"The guys want to play so bad, they always show up," he said.
Boone said coaches were told from the beginning that there could be no football until Phase 4.The problem was that Phase 4 got pushed back farther than schools expected.
"The LHSAA is pushing it off on the governor," he continued."It's all political."
He said the football players will be able to continue training by lifting weights to keep up their physical conditioning during Phase 2 and 3.
Dunbar, the most senior of the parish's gridiron coaches, said the training guidelines involved breaking the team into small groups.
"Every day when they come in we take their temperature and ask a series of questions to determine any possible exposure to the virus," he said. "We train from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. Monday-Thursday."
The Tigers have two groups. "One trains outside while the other one stays inside and works the weights," Dunbar said. "We swap about halfway, fully sanitizing all of the weight equipment before the second group begins training."
Dunbar said there has been some talk about "flipping seasons."
"Baseball and track could be played right now, under the LHSAA guidelines," Dunbar said. "'Flipping seasons' means the spring sports would play their season in the fall and the football teams would play in the spring."
Basketball is considered a "winter sport," and could be unaffected if the virus is brought under control and the state proceeds to Phase 4 of the recovery plan.
Dunbar said the only effect could be on athletes who play both football and basketball if the seasons overlap.
Pujol said his concern about flipping seasons is that football season would be canceled in the spring, like baseball was this year.
"I would only be in favor of that if every sport were guaranteed to play," he said.
"Flipping seasons is a last resort," Boone said. "I believe we will play this year, it's just a matter of when. I have to say that this team is so good this year, it will be a shame if we don't get to play."
As in every other pre-season and after-school training session since high school football began, coaches teach the techniques needed for success and players ask questions to improve their knowledge of the game.
"The conversation we don't have is the one that starts with 'What if,'" Dunbar said. "We are not going to think about whether or not there will be a football season this year.
"Our motto for this season is 'Control the Controllable.'"