Lufkin High School Head Football Coach Todd Quick talks to his players after they clinched the District 8-5A football championship on Nov. 1, 2019. (Photo by ANDY ADAMS/Lufkin ISD)

Lufkin High School’s football season is expected to begin on Sept. 28, after the Texas University Interscholastic League released a new set of guidelines today.

Texas high schools in UIL Classes 6A and 5A can start football practices on Sept. 7 and can play their first games as early as Sept. 24, according to the new UIL calendar and COVID-19 risk mitigation guidelines.

Todd Quick, Lufkin’s athletic director and head football coach, said he was glad to have an official — if tentative — start date for the season. The Panthers’ first game is scheduled to be against Tyler Lee at Rose Stadium in Tyler.

“It gave us reassurance that we are going to try to have a season,” Quick said of the UIL announcement. “It was such a tossup with maybe not having anything at all. Now, at least we have a target date to get started.”

The UIL guidelines include restricting the number of fans to 50% of each football stadium’s capacity. All adults and all students who are at least 10 years old will be required to wear masks to games, according to the UIL guidelines.

“Our goal in releasing this plan is to provide a path forward for Texas students and schools,” UIL Executive Director Dr. Charles Breithaupt said in a press release. “While understanding situations change and there will likely be interruptions that will require flexibility and patience, we are hopeful this plan allows students to participate in the education-based activities they love in a way that prioritizes safety and mitigates risk of COVID-19 spread.”

Quick said Lufkin ISD and District 8-5A officials are working to determine how they will address the 50% capacity limit at their stadiums when games begin.

“It’s going to look a lot different, especially when we have half a stadium filled up — which is not normally what we see,” Quick said. “There are some schools that are not allowing people in the bleachers at all, so we’re thankful for the 50%. We have to take care of all the band, the cheerleaders, the drill team, the football players’ parents — make sure they have the opportunity to get in — and for the most part, (season ticket holders) have said, ‘Yes, I’ll be willing to give up my tickets for a parent but maybe not be able to get in.’ Most of the people are doing that, but that’s just kind of who we are.”

District 8-5A officials will decide whether schools’ bands and drill teams — and how many fans — will travel to road games, Quick said.

“Our goal is to try to get uniform with all the members of the district so we don’t play three games where nobody shows up, and then we play a game where they bring everybody; well, it messes up with your ticket sales,” he said. “So we’re trying to get it to where everybody’s on the same page; everybody gives so many tickets to a visiting team. We kind of take care of each other on that.”

The UIL’s new guidelines include schedule changes for other sports, as well. Volleyball and basketball programs will have limited pre-district competition, with no tournaments and with scrimmages that are limited to four teams. Volleyball teams can begin practices on Sept. 7 and begin competing on Sept. 14.

“We start playing basketball in October/November, and we’re in the sixth week of the season (in football at that point),” Quick said. “You could play a district (basketball) game without kids that play football on the basketball team. With them not moving that (basketball start) date at all, those kids could be shortened that double up.”

Jerri Kay Boyd, Lufkin’s girls athletic coordinator, said the situation is “just so fluid, like everything could change at the drop of the hat,” but that she, too, was happy to have some official start dates in place.

“It provided hope,” she said. “We didn’t know if we were going to have a season. At least it gives these kids that have been working all summer something to keep working for.”