Ysleta ISD allows fall sports to continue playing, winter sports on pause

High School Sports

EL PASO, TEXAS (KTSM) – Fall sports teams within Ysleta Independent School District will continue practicing and playing games, a source told KTSM on Wednesday. The district later confirmed its decision.

YISD sports such as cross country, golf, football, team tennis and volleyball are allowed to continue competing and playing in games. All winter sports that were about to begin practices are currently suspended.

The decision from YISD comes three days after El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego “strongly recommended” that all the local school districts suspend athletics for at least two weeks due to the sharp rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in El Paso.

On Monday, Canutillo ISD, El Paso ISD and Socorro ISD heeded that recommendation, while school districts for Anthony, Clint, Fabens, San Elizario and Tornillo moved forward with sports.

YISD superintendent Xavier De La Torre told KTSM on Wednesday that the district’s participation in the state of Texas’ rapid COVID-19 testing pilot program played a major role in his decision to move forward with athletics.

“Having had the benefit of the rapid COVID-19 testing and using it frequently over the last two weeks, we’ve also collected data indicating that the positivity rate when it comes to our student-athletes is significantly lower than what our community at large is experiencing,” De La Torre said. “We’re going to take it a day at a time. When we’re uncomfortable with that positivity rate or the trajectory of it, we have and will continue to postpone games.”

KTSM reached out to Judge Samaniego for comment regarding YISD’s decision, but he had not responded as of Wednesday night.

De La Torre said the district is testing its athletes and coaches weekly, typically on Tuesdays, and thus far the antigen tests have seen a positivity rate of less than 2 percent. He said that if more than two athletes test positive on a team, they will postpone or cancel sporting events.

With just three sporting events featuring YISD teams (2 volleyball games and Riverside football vs. Clint) on Friday, De La Torre said the small schedule and the district’s testing protocols made it more comfortable with playing. However, it is still far from a final decision moving forward.

“If the science doesn’t support it, the numbers don’t support it, or the sentiment within our district don’t support it, then we will suspend next weekend’s games,” De La Torre said. “The only decision I’ve made is that we will have two volleyball games on Friday and travel to Clint and play one football game.”

The district will test its schools on Friday before they play. YISD is also giving some of its rapid tests to Clint ISD, so that Clint High School can test its football team before Friday’s game as well. In the event that too many players or coaches from either team were to test positive, the game would be postponed or canceled.

On the football field, the decision allows Riverside to play Clint for the District 1-4A championship on Friday night. It also allows the YISD cross country programs to compete at the district meets this weekend.

The decision did not come easy. Multiple YISD board trustees objected to the plan to move forward with athletics, sources told KTSM.

At a school board meeting on Monday, board trustee Kathryn Rose Lucero fought back tears as they discussed the matter. Lucero revealed she and her daughter both were battling COVID-19.

“I feel really conflicted with this,” Lucero said at the meeting. “I’m sorry, I feel really conflicted with this because obviously I have COVID and my daughter has COVID and COVID is everywhere.”

De La Torre responded to those sentiments on Wednesday.

“It’s always a risk when you do something like this,” De La Torre said. “Not all the board members are as comfortable as others. They have all been given with all the information and the steps we plan to take, and I appreciate the majority of them giving me the opportunity to try to make this happen for our student-athletes. I also respect and admire my board members that are uncomfortable. I get it.”

The superintendent said the school board would reconvene next week and discuss next steps regarding athletics continuing beyond this weekend.

With hospitals around the Borderland at complete capacity, the question was raised about student-athlete safety, and where an injured player requiring serious medical attention might be able to go if no hospital space was available.

“Football can be a violent sport and I appreciate knowing that Fort Bliss is now involved and likely will be available to take non-COVID-related cases,” De La Torre said.

At a board meeting on Monday, De La Torre said that he wanted to take his time with whatever decision was made regarding the district’s athletics, which led to Wednesday’s choice.

“I’m not about being first, I’m about being right and, as we always have, being very thoughtful and deliberate with the decisions that we make,” said De La Torre on Monday. “Maybe the right decision is to suspend sports for two weeks. I just don’t like the idea that there would be some kind of adverse consequence to the student-athletes who are innocent in all of this.”

Ysleta ISD will be operating on a week-by-week basis with regards to athletics and De La Torre said it was important that this weekend’s games be completed successfully.

“It has to go very well this weekend, because if you can’t do it with three games then you’re probably not in a good position to manage all of theses elements with four or five football games and three or four volleyball games,” De La Torre said. “Can we scale up and do that with all of the next week’s games, and more importantly, what are the community numbers looking like and what do our own testing numbers look like?”

It remains to be seen how Ysleta ISD moving forward with athletics, while other school districts brought them to a halt, will affect the various athletic districts and scheduling moving forward. As of now, it appears YISD schools in Class 5A will play each other where possible.

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