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Thursday, April 30, 2009
Texas' spring sports postseason schedule altered by swine flu outbreak

By Jeff Miller
Special to ESPNRISE.com

LANCASTER, Texas -- Thursday ended the latest four-day period of statewide testing in high schools across Texas. It's called the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, better known as "TAKS."

And, yes, it has been a taxing week for folks like senior discus thrower Chasity Thomas of Lancaster High School.

Thomas finished sixth at last year's state meet as a junior and was looking forward to improving on that in a few weeks, after officially qualifying in a regional meet scheduled for this weekend.

But late Wednesday morning, amid the week's developments across the state regarding the swine flu outbreak, officials from the University Interscholastic League announced that all high school sports would be suspended for about a week and a half, resuming on May 11.

Similarly, the Alabama High School Athletic Association announced early Thursday morning that it was suspending competition in connection with confirmed cases in the northern part of the state.

As part of the action in Texas, the UIL cancelled the 20 regional track meets in the five enrollment classifications and decided to instead expand the May 15-16 state meet by a day to bring in the top qualifiers in each district.

Thomas didn't qualify under the stipulations announced Wednesday morning. "That wasn't my best throw," Thomas said. "I didn't do as well as I thought I could."

Swine Flu Outbreak

Alabama joined Texas in suspending high school athletics Wednesday. Disappointment has been replaced by understanding for those particpating in Alabama's soccer playoffs, which are postponed due to an outbreak of swine flu, writes Sheldon Shealer. MORE

It's a common strategy for athletes who are confident that they will qualify at regionals not to risk injury at the district meets and advance with less than an optimum performance.

Teammates Ameesha Washington, running the 800 meters, and pole vaulter Ashley Whitley were also left on the outside looking in. All this for a Lancaster Tigers team setting its sights on a ninth consecutive Class 4A girls state outdoor title.

"The coaches, we were in the office yesterday dreading coming out here to tell them that," said Lancaster coach Bev Humphrey, also the school's athletic director. Humphrey not only felt bad for athletes who didn't go into the district knowing their performances would determine their standing in the state but, in the case of Washington, a runner who had been converted from running the mile and two mile and was just now rounding into form.

"I felt bad because I thought her mile time would have been up there," Humphrey said. "Then you start second-guessing yourself."

Not that everything would have gone against Lancaster. Without a regional meet, Sherman High School's star quarter-miler, Alicia Peterson, wouldn't have qualified for Austin.

But enough track folks made their feelings known to the UIL soon after the decision was announced, and executive director Charles Breithaupt said a few hours later the organization would work toward figuring out a different resolution. That came about late Thursday, when the UIL announced a new schedule for the regionals upon the resumption of athletic completion. The state meet now will be held the first weekend in June.

Swine Flu
The swine flu epidemic has closed schools and suspended high school sports in two states.

The UIL's decision to suspend activities was made following a recommendation from David Lakey, commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services along with Texas Education Agency commissioner Robert Scott. Across Texas, individual schools and entire districts have called off classes following the discovery of confirmed cases of swine flu in Texas schools, beginning last weekend with Steele High (Cibolo) near San Antonio.

Track wasn't the only sport which had its postseason altered. The normal five-week baseball and softball playoffs that determine state semifinals have been reduced to three weeks. Of the five rounds that precede the two-day semifinals and finals, the second and fourth rounds have been reduced to one-game playoffs rather than the option of playing a best-of-three series.

Rocky Manuel, baseball coach at Bellaire (ranked No. 1 in the ESPN RISE FAB 50), said the depth advantage that his team has enjoyed through its current 21-1-1 season will be all but eliminated in the playoffs.

"It puts the second and fourth rounds in the hands of a one-pitcher team," Manuel said. "That makes it tough."

The first and third rounds, potentially three-game series, are followed by the next round the following day -- unless the schools agree to play a third game on the same day as the second game.

"When you put a pencil to it, you can't do that," Manuel said. "Really, these will all be one game."

Said Rex Sanders, executive director of the Texas High School Baseball Coaches Association: "We're very much aware of the unusual circumstances, and we'll do and support whatever the UIL is telling us to do."

"It could be tweaked," said Sanders, who was the baseball coach at A&M Consolidated High School (College Station) for 25 years. "If they don't, we'll be good soldiers and salute and go on."

Jeff Miller is a freelance writer in Texas and can be reached at miller.jeff55@gmail.com.