SAISD superintendent hints at no fall contact sports

Pedro Martinez says football may not return until fans are "able to go see a Spurs game"


Danielle Esperiqueta

Football prepares to charge the field before a game against Steele. Thanks to coronavirus, that might not happen again until 2021.

Jackson Posey, Sports Editor

This story has been updated with comments from Comal ISD superintendent Andrew Kim.

As COVID-19 has decimated social structures and routines of people around the world, a common expression has been, “just a little while longer.”

“Just a little while longer” and we can go outside. “Just a little while longer” and we can go back to school. “Just a little while longer” and we can play sports again.

But those hopes, or at least the latter one, took a big hit on Tuesday morning during a San Antonio Express-News virtual press conference (35:30-36:45) with San Antonio ISD superintendent Pedro Martinez. After columnist Gloria Padilla inquired about the state of school athletics, Martinez admitted that things looked grim.

“[The] UIL will definitely dictate [whether teams compete],” he said. “But what I think is gonna happen is any contact sports, we’re not gonna have any of those for at least the first semester. So when you think about baseball and football and basketball, [they won’t be able to continue].”

That statement drew the ire of just about everyone, from Dave Campbell’s Texas Football insider Matt Stepp (“definitely conflicting statements there”) to Denton Guyer head football coach Rodney Webb (“Those are some shockingly irresponsible comments from [Superintendent] Martinez.”).

Martinez didn’t outright say that football would be cancelled, though, nor did he put it in the same basket as, say, band competitions.

“Sports that you don’t have to have high contact – you know, tennis and swimming and those kinds of sports – I think those will be able to continue,” he said. “Same thing with performing arts. [But] any big events for the first semester, I don’t think are gonna be allowed.”

The obvious follow-up question when contact sports will be allowed to return. Martinez’s answer wasn’t promising.

“I’m going to be an optimist that as we get into the second semester, hopefully restrictions will start lessening,” he said. “And I’m just following the lead of what I’m seeing even across the different professional arenas. So when you see that we’re able to go see a Spurs game, that’s probably when we’ll be able to have, you know, high-contact sports in our district.”

Unfortunately, that may not be for a while. The NBA has already pushed back their draft, and – according to recent reports – is targeting a Christmas Day return. Meanwhile, Dr. Nate Favini of Forward healthcare services told The Guardian that it “may be well until 2021 before we let fans into stadiums.” Not promising for high school football fans.

Columnist Cary Clack, whose interest was piqued by Martinez’s comments, asked for clarification. “So definitely no high school football?”

“Right,” Martinez responded. “Any high-contact sport, Cary, I just don’t see it happening the first semester, at least that’s my feeling. But UIL’s gonna give us that guidance. 

Martinez’s comments set Twitter ablaze, and district athletic director Todd Howey posted a video message to assuage fears and do some damage control.

“Hello student-athletes of San Antonio ISD,” Howey said. “There’s a Tweet or two going around that Mr. Martinez, our superintendent, has cancelled fall football and all contact sports. That is incorrect. That is not what he said. We are obviously pending direction from the UIL, but as of today, we fully intend to play football, run cross-country and play volleyball this fall.”

The potential ramifications of Martinez’s statement are varied and wide-ranging in their level of impact. Is he suggesting that, no matter what, SAISD schools won’t compete in the fall? That he has proprietary information suggesting fall sports won’t be feasible? Or is all this just a personal opinion that came off as a professional one? 

Furthermore, what is the backup plan if he’s right? Texas high school football is a major cultural event, and is the lifeblood of many athletics programs. So cancelling it doesn’t seem ideal. But postponing it until spring would put multi-sport athletes in the difficult position of choosing which of their sports to compete in.

Comal ISD superintendent Andrew Kim said Tuesday that he was “not aware of any decisions” regarding fall sports. But he’s more than willing to do whatever it takes to start up competitions again.

“Personally, I would love to get back to sports and fine art events,” Kim said, “because it provides avenues for our students’ creativity, sportsmanship, grit and [it] builds team[s].”

Regardless, Martinez’s comments are concerning, but non-concerning statements these days are few and far between. Players and fans can only hope that, come fall, they’ll be able to look up at those Friday Night Lights and appreciate how much they mean – and how close they were to fading away.

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