The University Interscholastic League Monday took what coaches view as a hopeful step toward the return of high school sports this fall. With the UIL's blessing, high school campuses across Texas officially opened, under strict guidelines, their summer strength and conditioning programs – a possible dry run for fall sports.

Westwood coach Daylyn Harris called the start of limited in-person workouts “the equivalent to Christmas morning for us coaches.”

The UIL has tentatively set Aug. 3 as the first day for mandatory fall practice, with Aug. 8 as the first day of contact.

“We're headed in the right direction,” Frankston Athletic Director Paul Gould said.

With COVID-19 still ravaging the state and nation, however, Monday's workouts were far from business-as-usual. Coaches put more focus on instruction, caution, and safety, as they welcomed their athletes back from a three-month hiatus.

Prescreening questionnaires of all students for COVID symptoms, as well as temperature checks, will become a daily routine for Texas high schools. Many area programs have used Twitter, or even Google Docs, to inform athletes and parents of guidelines.

Westwood high school began screening athletes at 6:45 a.m., before they could officially welcome them back on campus.

“I've stressed that we can't take this for granted,” Westwood Athletic Director Richard Bishop said. “We have to be more rigorous. We don't want to be the reason this thing goes south.”

Traditional welcome-back hugs, handshakes, and pats-on-the-back were replaced with squirts of sanitizer and orders to maintain six-feet social distancing.

Coaches, however, aren't complaining.

“Just being able to get your eyes on our players and talk with them was priceless,” Gould said. “All of my coaches showed up, even if they weren't signed up to work this week. We missed them. Just to be able to see them has done wonders for us.”

Access to locker rooms and shower facilities is prohibited. Shared food and water are, too, in what Grapeland Athletics Director Terry Ward said might pose a difficult challenge for athletes this year.

The common sight of a shared Gatorade bottle during practice is no longer seen. The traditional scene of water boys rushing onto the field during games may become increasingly difficult under current regulations. Athletes are encouraged to bring at least a gallon of water to drink.

Westwood, Frankston, Grapeland, and Slocum were among the area high schools to reopen Monday. Other schools, such as Palestine, Elkhart, and Cayuga, delayed their start date until June 15.

“There's no handbook for this,” Bishop said. “Anytime you do something new, you're anxious to see how it's going to work. Everyone shared positive vibes though. It's a sigh of relief that we're getting some sign of normalcy.”

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