Schedules remain unclear for East Valley 1A-4A football teams

LYFORD — While many football teams in Classes 1A through 4A are well into their football routines, the sub-5A teams in the East Valley are still looking for clarity and left hoping for the best regarding the upcoming football season.

Coaches have made a large number of changes to their season and district schedules while the COVID-19 pandemic continues to push school reopening dates further into September, and more changes may be coming. But they’re trying to keep a positive mindset for their athletes and the possibility of playing under the Friday night lights.

“It’s been crazy. I think I’ve changed the schedule six times because they just keep changing the dates. But our district is all about safety first,” Port Isabel coach and athletic director Tony Villarreal said. “I’ve always said we’ve got to be a champion of change; if not, this new world will just eat you up. What’s today is not tomorrow, that’s my new attitude. And you got to have a great attitude, you have to smile about it, because it’s tough.”

Port Isabel’s district, 16-4A Division II, decided Wednesday to do a 5-3 split for the season. The Tarpons will be battling with Raymondville and Rio Hondo for the district’s No. 3 seed in the playoffs. Port Isabel will play at least two games — opening the district season Oct. 23 at Rio Hondo before playing host to Raymondville Nov. 6 — and Villarreal said he’s working on getting a scrimmage and a game for the open date Oct. 30.

While Port Isabel waits for Sept. 28 so it can begin practicing, Villarreal said the coaches and athletes are using Zoom to focus on learning the game and each other.

“Our coaches have gotten real creative in installing the offense and the defense. The good thing is the kids at Port Isabel take to it like ducks to water. They don’t care, they’re just, ‘Coach, just teach us,’” Villarreal said. “It’s giving us an opportunity to learn and to install, and to get to know the kids and they can learn about us. We’re using it to our advantage.”

La Feria coach Oscar Salinas said he doesn’t know when the 16-4A DI district season will begin and doesn’t have a schedule put together for the Lions yet. Israel Gracia said Santa Maria is in a similar boat in District 16-2A DI. When the Cougars do get started, they’ll be playing just three district games since Ben Bolt-Palito Blanco became the first school in Texas to cancel its season Aug. 10.

While Cameron County’s latest health order, which pushes back the return date for athletics to Sept. 28, didn’t impose much of a change to schools in districts with Hidalgo County programs and those that don’t have schedules completed yet, it did create a problem for Brownsville St. Joseph Academy.

The Bloodhounds were set to play their first game Sept. 25. SJA coach and athletic director Tino Villarreal said the district planned ahead for possible issues, so the Bloodhounds pushed that season-opening contest against San Antonio St. Anthony’s to Nov. 13.

“We left that last week open on purpose for makeups, for situations like these, whether it was local or if, during the season, there needs to be a postponement for whatever reason,” Tino Villarreal said. “That gives us a little breathing room, but there’s still a lot of things that are unanswered.”

Some of the unanswered questions pertain to the early October games on SJA’s schedule. The TAPPS schedule calls for 2 1/2 weeks between a team’s first practice and its first game. If SJA begins practicing Sept. 28, that would leave Oct. 15 as the date for its first game. The Bloodhounds have contests on Oct. 3 and Oct. 9 on its current schedule.

Texas attorney general Ken Paxton did give schools the guidance necessary to allow districts to overrule county mandates and open facilities early, but it’s unclear if that’s an option SJA would take.

“I’m always an optimist and a dreamer, so I’m going to say that would be awesome to do that, and I know probably every coach in the Valley would say that,” Tino Villarreal said. “But the only thing we can go off of right now are facts and how this virus continues affecting Cameron County. Hopefully things change in a couple of weeks and this is a big wakeup call for a lot of people, as the county judge has been saying, for us to really do a better job at practicing social distancing and to not be out if it’s non-essential.”