During the Pandemic, Athletes, Coaches Find Ways to Stay Competitive

It would have been easy for St. Mark’s School of Texas players and coaches to lament their bad luck or dwell on their missed opportunities.

Between an October 2019 tornado that nearly destroyed their school and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Lions have experienced unprecedented interruptions during a two-year stretch when they were supposed to achieve national notoriety.

“Sure, there’s some disappointment right now. These guys were on track to do some pretty special things,” said St. Mark’s head basketball coach Greg Guiler. “I’m very proud of the guys and the resilience they’ve shown.”

The roster is led by nationally ranked recruits, including Harrison Ingram, a decorated Stanford signee known for his versatility, and 6-foot-8 junior Colin Smith. The Lions were invited to multiple out-of-state tournaments and were set to shine on national television.

“I’m very proud of the guys and the resilience they’ve shown.”

Greg Guiler

Instead, through the end of January, St. Mark’s had played just six games. The Lions haven’t had a single practice with the entire roster together. Recruiting visits from college coaches have turned into Zoom meetings. But again, Guiler emphasizes the positives to his players, who are tested for coronavirus weekly.

“It’s been rough on them, but they’ve been tough,” he said. “We’ve been shut down three times. Our school wants to support athletics while still not wanting the guys to transmit the virus to one another. Our administration has given us every opportunity. I’m grateful.”

A handful of St. Mark’s players are summer teammates with the Southern Assault select program, which has formed a makeshift Southern Assault Prep squad to compete in high-profile tournaments during the season while St. Mark’s is idle.

Other SPC schools likewise have cautiously returned to competition. St. Mark’s, ESD, and Greenhill each played a few football games, and spring sports cut short in 2020 are ramping up.

Athletic administrators from neighboring campuses have conducted virtual meetings weekly since last summer, discussing protocols, precautions, and plans for enabling students to compete, even if conference championships won’t be contested.

“It has been critical for us to focus on the social and emotional aspects that team participation can provide, especially given the mental challenges of the pandemic,” said Hockaday athletic director Deb Surgi. “I am happy that we have been able to continue with our practices and schedules for the most part. I think about our coaches and athletes who had to come back in September and practice in grids as we progressed to team scrimmages and then contests. We have advanced since the fall in how we practice and play, and our players and coaches have been remarkable.”

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