WASKOM, Texas (KSLA) - A popular East Texas high school football coach who narrowly escaped with his life against COVID-19 now finds himself navigating his young players through the first week of practice amid the pandemic.
Head Coach Whitney Keeling spoke with us just before practice got underway in Waskom, Texas, on Tuesday. His players have waited weeks and weeks just to get on the practice field and begin preparing for what is hoped to be a complete season.
Keeling explained that there are so many unknowns right now — and they are just taking it one day at a time.
Waskom is a Class 3A Division 2 school. So, it is among the school districts from Class 4A and smaller, now allowed on the practice field.
Some fear it’s simply too soon to start up football in the midst of rising COVID-19 numbers, again.
Keeling is the first to tell you it’s unclear if football can continue for long because of the nature of the game as a high contact sport, citing just one example of the challenges ahead.
"If I made a long run and I'm lining back down and you tackle me, how am I not going to be breathing hard and you not be close to me? So, you know, I don't have the answers to that. But I would venture to say that's going to be pretty tough."
Keeling brings a very unique perspective to this team.
The coach describes being very sick with the virus just a month ago and credits his wife for literally helping him survive that very tough illness, of which he can still feel the effects. So he’s acutely aware of the risks involved and hopefully how to prevent transmission among his students, staff, parents and the extended community.
"I'm very cautious around our players, around our coaches. They recommend 6 feet apart and a mask and I'm going to do that."
Part of the protocols the team must abide by, said Keeling, include wearing a face mask and observing social distancing in certain conditions.
"Anytime you're in a business setting, weight room, locker rooms, they recommend us to wear masks. When we're outside and doing drills and things of that nature, you do not have to wear a mask. They recommend you to wear one, if you're in a drill standing around."
This is Keeling’s 23rd season as the head football coach at Waskom High, right at the state line separating Texas from Louisiana.
And his message to his players about their individual responsibilities to the team is: “If they want to have a season, then they need to follow the protocol. And that’s what we’re trying to do.”