As the National Anthem echoed across the stadium at the first two football games of the El Campo Ricebirds’ 2020 season, fans noticed the team was missing from the sideline, but the absences were not planned, campus officials say.

“It was not deliberate,” ECHS Principal Demetric Wells said.

In the U.S., professional, college and high school football teams traditionally stand on the sideline while a rendition of the National Anthem is played before each game. El Campo football games follow this tradition, but so far, this season has been different.

On Sept. 28, the Ricebirds played Gonzales High School away from home. While the National Anthem played, the teams had yet to line up onto the field. 

“(The coaches) all had different time-lines for when the teams would come out,” Wells said. “At the first game, we were under the pretense that (the teams) were coming out at the same time.”

At Friday’s game against Calhoun High School, the Ricebird players were present during the National Anthem, but they stood a little farther from the stands than they normally would.

“Our team was actually in the south end zone when the National Anthem was playing,” Wells said. “So the students were out there, they just weren’t on the sideline.”

Safety measures put in place by the District Executive Committee because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic also contributed to the team’s absences, Ricebirds’ Head Coach Wayne Condra said.

“It was never meant (to be) a political statement,” Condra said. “It was something (the DEC) came up with early in the summer, to make sure if we did play we could get the kids on and off the field (quickly).”

The DEC’s COVID-19 plans included having the teams in the locker rooms while the National Anthem played. During their first two games, El Campo tried to follow those guidelines, but both opposing schools ran the National Anthem right before kickoff.

Going forward, El Campo plans to be on the field for the national anthem. Most teams inside El Campo’s district will also go back to the old rules of being on the field during the national anthem, Condra said.

“That’s what people need to understand,” Condra said. “We’ve got a lot of guidelines we’ve got to follow. It was never meant for anything but just making sure our kids were safe.”

The ongoing pandemic has shaped multiple aspects of Ricebird football. Handshakes with the opposing team don’t happen anymore, but are sometimes replaced by fist bumps. In the season opener with Gonzales, the two teams waved at each other from mid-field.

Earlier this summer, with cases rising throughout the state, students weren’t allowed to use the locker rooms during their offseason workouts.

Other DEC COVID-19 modifications prevent  cheerleaders from exchanging gifts before the games and road team bands from traveling with the teams to allow more fans at the game. Stadiums are limited to 50 percent capacity for games.

ECHS’ next varsity football game will be the school’s homecoming game against Wharton High School, set for Friday. El Campo’s football district includes Stafford, Brazosport, Bay City, West Columbia and Needville.

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