It’s the first Friday of the Texas high school football season.
In a typical year, Rio Grande Valley football fans would be flocking to see their favorite local high school team kickoff Week 1 of the 2020 season.
“High school football is something unique in our state; there’s very few things like Friday nights. It’s an opportunity to bring communities together for a common cause,” Sharyland High head football coach and athletic coordinator Ron Adame said. “It’s an opportunity for neighbors, family members and friends to come together and unite and support not just the football team, but all the extracurriculars that are involved in what make a Friday night special — the band, the dance team, the cheerleaders, the student body.”
But this year has been anything but normal.
RGV fans who have grown accustomed to watching classic Week 1 rivalry games like “The Battle of Conway” or “The Starr County Super Bowl” won’t get to pile into stadiums across the Valley to catch high school football due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
When most UIL Class 1A-4A schools kick off their seasons tonight, there will be bands playing fight songs, cheerleaders rooting on their respective teams and fans in the stands.
But in the RGV, where COVID-19 has run rampant, there will be no “Friday night lights” — at least not yet.
In fact, RGV teams remain a month away from even beginning practice as local county health orders restrict high schools from hosting athletic activities until after Sept. 27.
In the meantime, the RGV football world remains on the sideline.
“I feel like we’re being left out having to watch the rest of Texas get ready for their Week 1 games. And for us not even to have a first day of practice yet — which is still up in the air — is pretty frustrating to see the rest of Texas do that,” Mission High senior Micah Lopez said.
During Week 1 last year, Mercedes linebacker Brandon Adame and the Tigers were getting ready to open their season against Edinburg North at home. This year for Adame, who has been around football his entire life as the son of Mercedes head coach Roger Adame, has been unlike any other.
“It definitely feels weird because looking at the calendar, we were supposed to be getting ready for Week 1 right now. It feels weird because you’re at home and you see all these other schools getting ready. You want to get out there and play too until it’s your turn,” he said. “It’s crazy how all this stuff is going on. Obviously, we want to play, but you control what you can, and you can’t control how it’s (COVID-19) getting spread around the Valley and how it took over, kind of.”
As of Wednesday, there have been 26,606 positive cases in Hidalgo County, with 655 new positive cases announced Wednesday. There have been 1,130 fatalities in Hidalgo County due to COVID-19 related complications. In Starr County, there have been 117 deaths due to complications from COVID-19 as of Tuesday. In Cameron County, there have been 20,617 confirmed cases and 688 deaths. Willacy County has reported 41 deaths.
In the RGV’s four counties combined, there have been 2,023 deaths due to complications from COVID-19.
Still, football guys won’t stray far from the game they know and love.
McAllen Memorial head coach Bill Littleton has roamed the sidelines for 45 years, missing Week 1 just once after he suffered a heart attack. He was on the sidelines the following week, he said, “even though I can’t say I did a whole lot.”
He will be at a football game still tonight, deciding to take in the La Vernia game at home. He’s going because football runs through his veins and, more importantly, to see how a school three hours north of the Valley is moving forward with athletics.
“I want to try to learn how they’re handling this, how they’re handling the sidelines and maybe pick up some pointers for when we get to that time where we are ahead of the game,” Littleton said. “I’ve missed just that one ballgame and I hope I don’t miss our opening night.”
At the moment, most RGV football teams are set for an opening night of Friday, Oct. 23.
The only RGV school district that won’t have an opening night or football season is La Joya ISD, which recently canceled fall sports for its three high schools — La Joya High, La Joya Juarez-Lincoln, La Joya Palmview — due to COVID-19 health and safety precautions.
Staff writers Andrew McCulloch and Henry Miller contributed to this report.