Let’s get back to work … FHSAA Board of Directors votes for fall sports plan

BPS must still approve Aug. 24 start date


Published:

Volleyball is back. And so is football, golf, cross country, bowling and swimming. The FHSAA Board of Directors voted 11-5 Friday to approve Aug. 24 as the first day fall sports can begin practice. Brevard Public Schools will still need to approve the plan.

VIERA VOICE Carl Kotala

Fall sports are back.

The Florida High School Athletic Association voted 11-5 on Friday to allow fall sports programs to begin practicing on Aug. 24 with school districts given the option to opt out of the state playoff series by Sept. 18.

Unlike the previous two votes, which were held online, Friday’s meeting took place in person at the Best Western Gateway Grand in Gainesville.

Despite the vote, it will be up to the Brevard Public Schools to determine when practices and seasons can begin, if there will be any restrictions on travel imposed, and if fans will be allowed to attend games.

A spokesperson for BPS said the start of fall sports would be discussed on Friday, but wasn’t sure if there would be a statement made before the weekend.

The FHSAA board’s vote came amidst a bit of a tug-of-war. The FHSAA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC) recommended the start date be pushed back until at least mid-September in order to look at the numbers several weeks after all schools have been opened.

Meanwhile, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio have both stated they would be in favor of the Aug. 24 start date. There was also an online petition that had gathered more than 40,000 signatures urging the board to adopt the Aug. 24 date.

“We’re not going to please everybody,” board member Susan Tortora of Montverde Academy said in her closing statement.

“We knew that coming in. But I think we did a really good thing today in at least giving some people some hope and a start date and something where they can say, ‘OK, this is what we’re doing.’ For that, I’m very grateful.”

Under the decision made by the FHSAA, the first potential high school games can now be played on Sept. 4, which would allow for one extra week of football than had been previously discussed.

Of course, not all school districts will be able to start that soon, particularly in the area that has been hit hardest in the state by the coronavirus – South Florida.

It was Carlos Ochoa, Athletic Director at Hialeah Gardens, who proposed the amendment to Option 1 that would allow the opt-out date of Sept. 18 for the state series. That option will give school districts who might not be ready to start on Aug. 24 some flexibility because it would allow them to come up with their own 2020-21 sports calendars with the help of FHSAA staff.

Several members of the board expressed their concern that the board would not follow the recommendations made by SMAC. Dr. Jennifer Maynard, chairperson of the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, said some areas of the state are getting better, but some are getting worse. Only one county in the state (Hamilton) is under the 5-percent positivity rate for Covid-19. That under 5-percent rate was recommended by SMAC to allow fall sports to begin.

 

Maynard told the board unless the virus is given the “respect it deserves,” playing sports could only make things worse.

Chris Patricca, a school board member from Lee County said she has children who play football and swim and are eager for the chance to play and that she’s eager to see them play, too. At the same time, Patricca said, her vote wasn’t about her heart. It was about following the science.

“How do I ignore the medical advice?” she said. “… It feels like it’s setting us up for failure.”

By the same token, Wewahitchka High School’s Bobby Johns said he had a problem with students returning to brick-and-mortar schools and not being allowed to play sports.

FHSAA Executive Director George Tomyn also presented recommendations from 10 advisory committees that included all fall sports, student advisors, athletic directors, officials and SMAC. The committees looked at all three options on the table, including Option 1 and Option 3, which would have pushed the start date back to November and resulted in a shorter season for all sports.

Option 1 received 52 votes, while Option 3 had 41.

The committee also heard from Jaime and Tami Kent, parents of a Cambridge Christian football player, who started the online petition that drew more than 40,000 signatures.

“I’m simply asking you this: Let these kids play,” Jaime Kent said. “Students need sports for their mental, physical, emotional well-being.”

Ultimately, the FHSAA board voted to go with Tomyn’s recommendation to let fall sports begin Aug. 24.

“We had to make a difficult decision today‚” FHSAA board president and Plant High athletic director Lauren Otero said.

“It didn’t matter what that outcome was of the decision … there were going to be people that were upset, and there were going to be people that were very pleased. So, as we move forward, we are all together as one now and the goal is that we are making the safest decisions in our schools and in our districts.

“Our schools have a lot ahead of them, not only starting school, but also implementing sports in the safest way possible.”