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Huffman ISD athletic director “punched in gut” by Harris County’s Order

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HOUSTON – Mike McEachern was running errands on Friday morning.

The Huffman ISD athletic director and head football coach knew Harris County was set to make an announcement, which he thought could be "intriguing". As McEachern was trying to pull up the live video feed on his phone, he was having trouble viewing it.

Then his phone started blowing up with text messages.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo had made the announcement that all public and non-religious private schools inside Harris County could not start face-to-face instruction until September 8, the Tuesday following Labor Day. This meant no athletics in August.

For Huffman, a Class 4A program, which sits about a quarter of a mile inside the Harris County line, this meant what the University Interscholastic League had announced on Tuesday - which gave Class 4A programs and down the clearance to start practice and games on time - was now a moot point just days later.

"It's just a kick in the teeth," McEachern said. "The hardest thing right now is we can't get the kids together and continue our strength and conditioning."

The Class 4A and down football and volleyball teams had been cleared by UIL to start practice on Aug. 3 with games on Aug. 10 for volleyball and Aug. 27 for football. Cross country and team tennis had been cleared for first meets and matches to be held Aug. 17.

Those dates are all shifted for Huffman, which is the only school in District 10-4A-DI that falls within the Harris County line.

According to the Texas Department of Health Services COVID-19 tracking website, as of Friday evening, Harris County was leading the State of Texas (of the 250 counties that have reported) with 61,416 cases. Dallas County is just behind them at 44,087. On Friday, the same day as Hidalgo's order, Texas reported 8,701 new cases, which was the second-fewest this week.

For football, Huffman was paired with Livingston, Lumberton, Orange Little Cypress-Mauriceville, Splendora and Vidor. Those schools, as of now, are in counties that haven't put down similar orders. McEachern and his football staff were set to begin work on Monday. The veteran coach said they typically get together and start work a week in advance of the players arriving.

"Now, we're not in a hurry," McEachern said. "We don't have kids and we don't have as much to get accomplished until we get further down the road. It's a gut-punch right now."

Due to the change, Huffman football wouldn't be able to start non-contact practice until September 8 and would have to follow the UIL acclimatization period until that first Friday or Saturday. After that they will have a full week of practice - missing their September 18 game against Navasota - before going into game prep for a home showdown with La Marque on September 25.

That date was originally set to be the Falcons' Homecoming game, where they would be debuting their new turf at Falcon Stadium.

"We will be fresh and hungry," McEachern said about when they get to play. "Our kids will be hungry when they come running through that tunnel for the first time."

A week later, the Falcons were supposed to have a open week October 2, which McEachern will now be looking for an oppontent to fill that date, and then are set to open District 10-4A-DI play against Little Cypress-Mauriceville on October 9.

For the Huffman volleyball team, which was one win from a Regional Tournament appearance a year ago, they would have to dive straight into district being in District 21-4A with Hamshire-Fannett, Hardin-Jefferson, Liberty, Livingston, Shepherd and Regional Semifinalist Splendora. As they all get started on time, Huffman potentially could have to play its first district contest on Sept. 11 with a few practices and no games under their belt.

For their cross country program it is tough as well. The Huffman boys' program finished 15th overall in Texas last year at state, while the girls finished ninth led by freshmen Cassidy Davis and Jetzibe Trevino.

"It's just tough," McEachern said. "It's hard to explain to kids. Because people want to know who's fault is it. Why is this happening? This is nobody's fault and that's the hardest thing to explain to kids. I get tired of saying these are life lessons but they are. Somewhere down the road, we will learn from this and hopefully be better for it. That's tough to tell kids right now."

The situation has been fluid. Changing day by day, really hour by hour, McEachern said and his message to his athletes - who will now have to shift back to individual at-home workouts - and coaches is "we have to control the controllable."

"It's what everybody talks about," McEachern said. "You don't want to paint the doom and gloom picture right away and tell them we're going to lose a scrimmage and four games. You tell them we're still working through this process. Who's to say it doesn't change again for everybody? Who's to say 4A doesn't get pushed back to 5A and 6A? Who's to say everybody doesn't get pushed back?

"We don't know those things. We're trying to stay as upbeat as possible but not having practice and seeing the kids is the hardest thing."

McEachern said the original plan for middle school football was to start Aug. 26 and they would play Sept. 11 but they will now lose some games as well.