LA JOYA — La Joya ISD officially became the first public multi-school district in Texas to rule out all fall sports competition in 2020, as La Joya High, La Joya Juarez-Lincoln and La Joya Palmview join Ben Bolt-Palito Blanco as the only University Interscholastic League schools to make that determination thus far amidst the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic.
The La Joya school district made it official by notifying the two district executive committees — District 31-6A for La Joya and Juarez-Lincoln, and District 30-5A for Palmview (La Joya Palmview competes in District 16-5A DI for football) — in writing on Monday, officially signaling that it won’t participate in any cross country, football or volleyball competition during the fall sports competition.
“The health, safety and well-being of our students, employees and community remain the highest priority for La Joya ISD,” the district wrote in a news release. “Thank you for your understanding and continued support of this precautionary measure we have taken to safeguard the health and well-being of our community. Together or Apart We Will Shine Bright at La Joya ISD!”
Matt Stepp of Dave Campbell’s Texas Football was the first to report the news Saturday. Multiple La Joya ISD sources confirmed to The Monitor that the three La Joya high schools verbally informed their respective DECs on Friday.
Due to the severity of the COVID-19 crisis locally, the La Joya ISD Board of Directors voted Thursday to extend the start of online-only learning for the first eight weeks of the school year per Texas Education Agency school reopening guidelines, which would make Nov. 2 the first day when on-campus classes can resume.
⚠️ Attention La Joya ISD Family⚠️
La Joya ISD will remain 100% on its Remote Learning Model for the first 8 weeks of school. The first day of school continues to be September 8, 2020.
Additionally, La Joya ISD has applied for a special waiver from the TEA to extend online-only learning beyond the first eight weeks of the school year due to Hidalgo County’s current designation as a COVID-19 hot spot.
Multiple sources close to the matter, who requested anonymity because of the fluid nature of the ongoing situation, told The Monitor that as it relates to fall sports competition, they felt the district’s decision was made principally as a result of a prisoner’s dilemma they and other Rio Grande Valley school districts have found themselves in, which they feel will lead to a domino effect throughout Hidalgo County and parts of South Texas.
The UIL delayed the beginning of fall sports competition and preseason practices for Class 5A and 6A schools until Sept. 7.
Under that current plan, the district certification dates for Class 6A and 5A are Oct. 31 for cross country, Nov. 17 for volleyball and Dec. 5 for football. For Class 1A-4A, district certification for football is scheduled for Nov. 7, while it’s Oct. 27 for volleyball.
However, current public county health orders in Cameron, Hidalgo and Starr counties are not allowed to consider reopening for on-campus learning until after Sept. 27 and are legally not allowed to host on-campus practices or extracurricular activities until in-person instruction resumes.
Schools in Willacy County, which are under the same restrictions, have to wait until Sept. 21.
The problem for La Joya ISD arose with its new tentative Nov. 2 return date, which when taken into consideration with existing district certification deadlines, would have given the La Joya High, Juarez-Lincoln and Palmview football teams only one week of regular season play before the start of the Class 5A and 6A state high school playoffs.
Ben Bolt-Palito Blanco was the first Texas HS to cancel fall sports
La Joya ISD, the first multi-high school district to call off fall sports, can’t say at this time whether it plans to postpone, further delay or outright cancel its cross country, football and volleyball seasons
— Andrew McCulloch (@ByAndyMcCulloch) August 24, 2020
The Coyotes, Huskies and Lobos’ cross country and volleyball teams, meanwhile, would have already missed the entirety of their fall seasons in this existing window when they would first be able to return to on-campus team practices.
Multiple sources throughout the Valley told The Monitor they expect this dynamic to affect decision making at many RGV school districts.
However, La Joya ISD currently can’t specify whether the district is canceling, postponing or further delaying its cross country, football and volleyball seasons.
That’s because of a meeting that occurred Wednesday between senior-level UIL officials and school district personnel from across the state.
Multiple sources told The Monitor that the UIL informed school districts they were not allowed to play fall sports — like cross country, football or volleyball — outside of the current season window without the organization’s approval on a school district-by-district basis.
Several Rio Grande Valley coaches, athletic directors and school district officials have told The Monitor they would, in theory, support a proposition that would delay the start of fall sports until January 2021, shortening and delaying fall, winter and spring sports seasons into the summer if need be.
Additionally, several Valley coaches and administrators have told The Monitor that they would be open to limiting competition to Region I, the RGV or their specific districts, when and if competition resumes.
— Andrew McCulloch (@ByAndyMcCulloch) August 24, 2020
However, many have expressed pessimism, saying they believe the UIL would be unlikely to approve either scenario currently because of outside pressures.
Multiple sources close to the matter told The Monitor that due to 2020 marking the 100th anniversary of UIL high school football, the organization is being pressured by the state’s highest-ranking elected officials to keep the football state championship games scheduled as is.
“We’re not able to speak to hypothetical situations or decisions beyond the Fall at this time. Since COVID-19 affects every community differently, UIL’s modified plan has allowed for local decision making,” the UIL said in a written response to The Monitor.
“Each school/district can make the decision whether or not to participate in UIL activities.”
Currently, the Class 1A-4A football state championship games are set to be played Dec. 16-19, while the Class 5A and 6A state title games are slated for Jan. 11-15 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
La Joya High, Juarez-Lincoln, Palmview and Ben Bolt-Palito Blanco join the Southwest Preparatory Conference — which oversees high school sports for 18 private high schools in Oklahoma and Texas — schools as a growing group of Texas schools that have committed to forgoing fall sports seasons in 2020.
As of Monday afternoon, multiple sources told The Monitor that McAllen ISD was committed to playing fall sports in 2020 and stands by the UIL’s adjusted calendar, for now, while other Valley school districts continue ongoing dialogues about how to proceed.
McAllen ISD is currently monitoring Class 1A-4A schools that are currently competing in fall sports, though, to assess how they’re handling the situation, while sources emphasize the district’s commitment to its current fall sports schedule could change in the near future.
It’s unclear how the UIL or Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS) will enforce transfer rules for student-athletes from these schools who wish to transfer and play out their senior seasons elsewhere, with many looking for a place to play in order to garner college athletic scholarships.
Current UIL guidelines state that student-athletes who transfer schools without being granted a hardship waiver must sit out from participating in UIL-sanctioned events for their new school for 365 days.
This story will be updated as more information becomes available.