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The virus has dimmed the Friday night lights of football in Texas. - Press "Enter" to skip to content

The virus has dimmed the Friday night lights of football in Texas.

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During the summer, the coronavirus pandemic ravaged the Rio Grande Valley, in the southern tip of Texas along the border with Mexico. In July, ambulances lined up in a grim parade, waiting to drop patients at emergency rooms. Some funeral homes ordered refrigerated trucks to store bodies.

As of Wednesday, more than 63,200 coronavirus cases had been reported and more than 3,200 people had died in the four counties that constitute the valley — more fatalities than in any of the urban centers of Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.

The valley’s predominantly Latino population is among the poorest in Texas and among the most susceptible to the worst effects of the virus.

During such a crisis, holding a football season might seem inconsequential. But the game is perhaps more urgent and galvanizing in Texas than anywhere else. As towns along or near the Rio Grande have shut off their Friday night lights, or left them flickering in uncertainty, there has been a sense of cultural casualty.

In late August, the school district that includes Palmview High, La Joya High and Juarez-Lincoln High decided to cancel fall sports. But some parents and athletes protested, and in late September officials reconsidered. In the end, though, only Palmview decided to proceed with football — and only with severe limitations and precautions.

Jeré Longman, a sports reporter for The New York Times, spoke to players, their families and coaches about the decision.

“We have to be very cautious,” said Ernesto Lerma, an assistant coach for Palmview who, at 78, would be especially vulnerable to the virus. “This is a deadly disease.”


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