By Kevin Posival
Killeen Daily Herald
University Interscholastic League officials Wednesday postponed all public high school athletic competitions until May 11 because of the swine flu epidemic.
The move suspends the baseball and softball seasons and eliminates the regional track championships, scheduled to start Friday.
Charles Breithaupt, executive director of the UIL, said league officials acted on the recommendation of public health officials.
"The health and safety of our student activity participants is of the utmost importance," he said. "Taking every possible precaution to prevent the further spreading of this disease is an important contribution to the welfare of our great state, and altering the schedule of our events is a way to keep our participants safe."
While the suspension puts the baseball and softball seasons on hold, the cancellation of the regional track championships ends the seasons of some regional qualifiers – those athletes who placed first through third at their district meets who had at least a chance to qualify for the state track meet by improving their district times and distances at the regional meet.
"I understand their concern for everyone's safety," Copperas Cove boys track coach Tracy Raines said. "But, I didn't think it was the fairest solution. ... Some of the best sprinters in the state, like Ellison's Prezel Hardy and Michael Bryan, won't be able to compete at the state meet."
The UIL Track and Field Championships, one of the largest high school track and field competitions in the country, has been extended to a three-day format, tentatively scheduled for May 14-16, and will include semifinal heats.
Semifinal qualifiers will be based on the district track meet results. Each of the state's four, eight-district regions will be represented at the state meet by the top four performances in each event for all conferences.
"We wanted the state meet to have regional representation from the district meets," said UIL Chief of Staff Kim Rogers. "This is one of those things that doesn't happen every day. Based on the advice from the TEA (Texas Education Agency), we made the decision to cancel the regional meets and came up with a tentative solution."
Hand-held times from the district meets will be converted to fully automatic times as defined by the National Federation of State High School Association rules.
A revised track and field state meet schedule will be posted on the UIL Web site no later than Friday. Qualifiers to the UIL state track and field meet will be posted on the UIL Web site on May 6.
"It's hard to say what to think of this. This is new to everyone, and it'll affect a lot of kids in the state. I don't know how the people in Austin will handle this, though," said Harker Heights athletic coordinator Mike Mullins. "Usually, they prepare for eight athletes per event, and now they have to double it and add a day."
The Shoemaker softball team was supposed to open its first-ever playoff appearance Friday but now must wait until May 16.
"If they found out that it was necessary, then we have to do what we have to do," Shoemaker softball coach Kelly Berg said. "We play through weather all the time, that's never an issue. In a way it helps to have a week off. ... Having two weeks off, though, is an awfully long time."
Meanwhile, with just one game left in the regular season, the Temple Wildcats baseball team holds a one-game lead over the Ellison Eagles, but both have crucial games that are now two weeks away.
And all they can do is practice.
"It's kind of frustrating having to wait, especially in the situation we're in where we're waiting on our game against A&M Consolidated and we're waiting on the outcome of the Shoemaker-Temple game (to see who gets into the playoffs)," said Ellison baseball coach Craig Martin. "Really, we just have to wait and see how we react to it."
All UIL academic competitions, including the state meet that was to begin May 7, are also postponed and will be rescheduled later. The state golf and tennis championships will play out as scheduled May 11-14.
Meanwhile, private schools leagues were divided on what to do.
In a statement on its Web site, the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools said the spring playoffs "remain intact with no changes."
But TAPPS officials also said athletes and schools may choose not to play because of health concerns. The TAPPS track meet is scheduled for May 8-9 at Baylor University.
Another group of 18 private schools in Texas and Oklahoma, the Southwest Preparatory Conference, canceled all events for today and Friday. The group's directors planned to meet today to decide further action.
"The welfare of students is best determined by parents and individual member schools," a TAPPS official said. No sanction or penalty will be imposed by TAPPS should a school choose not to participate in the TAPPS playoffs in response to health concerns.