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South Texas School District Becomes 1st In State To Cancel Fall Sports

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Imagine Friday nights in Texas with no football this fall. Well, that has become the reality for Ben Bolt-Palito Blanco High School in South Texas. The school board there recently voted to keep classes online for the first nine weeks of the school year, which means no extracurricular activities during that time, which means no football. Ben Bolt is the first high school in Texas to cancel all fall sports. Gary Cunningham is the athletic director of Ben Bolt's school district, and we want to welcome you to the show.

Coach Cunningham, welcome.

GARY CUNNINGHAM: Thank you. Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

KELLY: And what were the factors? How did you all come to it?

CUNNINGHAM: I was torn from the beginning, torn between giving our kids some sense of normalcy, some sense of let's get back to the way things used to be and my fear of keeping my kids safe, my coaches safe, and my coaches' families safe, as much as I hated the decision for our kids, especially for our seniors, that they're not going to get a chance to compete their senior year. At the same time, you know, what would happen if something did happen and one of our people got sick and, God forbid, passed away from this stuff? You know, I don't think I could live with it. So in that sense, I don't think many people were shocked. Of course, some of the kids were upset, mainly our senior kids. But I think they - deep down inside that they understand. Our community is taking it much better than I thought they would.

KELLY: Oh, really? Because I am trying to imagine - I mean, this is Texas. It's this Friday night without Friday Night Lights. How is that going down?

CUNNINGHAM: I guess I don't know if we're unique or - I don't know. Some places are going crazy over the idea that they might not get to compete. As you would suspect, we had some parents that were upset, and mainly that's the parents of seniors. But I don't think there's been the outpouring of anger that some people thought there was going to be.

KELLY: Now, I said you all are the - you're the first high school in Texas to cancel all fall sports. Are you talking to other athletic directors in the state? Are they saying, oh, man, I'm so sorry, or are they saying, you know what? We might be right behind you.

CUNNINGHAM: Some are - a little bit of both. Some are saying, you know, gosh, we - our hearts are broken for your kids and for your school. Some - I've had some phone calls from a couple of schools down in the Rio Grande Valley asking, you know, what went into the decision, why did you make this decision, and how did the community accept this decision? Because I just don't think we're going to be the only school in the state of Texas that ends up not playing football. The Rio Grande Valley is just a hotbed of COVID cases, and it's spreading like wildfire down there. I just don't think it's going to be safe. I don't think they can make it safe. You know, I just don't think we're trying to be the only school.

KELLY: Any plans to work with your players to help support them now that they'll be off the field for the fall?

CUNNINGHAM: It's really hard because, like I said, there's no kids on campus. The only thing we can do is kind of like this. You know, we visit with them on Zoom. We talk to them periodically on the phone. We check in with them to make sure, you know, they're doing OK. And we're still sending - we send out workouts periodically for them to do at home, that they can get out and run and do a little lifting or just something so that we can stay in touch with them and know that we're still thinking about them. And we're still in touch.

KELLY: That is Gary Cunningham, the athletic director of the Fighting Badgers. That's the Ben Bolt school district in South Texas, the first high school in Texas to call off fall sports.

Gary Cunningham, thank you.

CUNNINGHAM: Thank you very much. I appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.