Fall sports cleared for takeoff

FHSAA Board votes to allow practice to begin July 27 as originally scheduled


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The FHSAA Board of Directors approved a plan Monday night that will allow practice for all fall sports to begin on July 27, as originally scheduled. The measure was approved by a 10-5 vote after a five-hour meeting.

VIERA VOICE Carl Kotala

The Florida High School Athletic Association’s Board of Directors met for five hours Monday night to discuss what to do about fall sports in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

In the end, the calendar will remain the same.

Fall practice for all sports are set to begin as originally scheduled on Monday (July 27) following a 10-5 vote by the board in favor of a motion by Wewahitchka athletic director and football coach Bobby Johns.

The proposal included two provisions whereby the FHSAA will create a date when schools must declare whether or not they will take part in the state championship series for each of the six fall sports. Schools who decline to participate – most likely because they won’t be able to start their seasons on time -- will be allowed to play regular-season games through the end of the state playoffs.

The FHSAA board’s vote came on the same day California opted to move its fall sports to the winter and spring seasons. Georgia, meanwhile, pushed the start of its football season back two weeks with games beginning on Sept. 4.

More than 4,000 people watched Monday’s FHSAA board meeting on YouTube or Zoom. However, there were no public comments allowed on either format and despite an email address provided for the public to be able to make statements or ask questions, there was no public feedback presented before the board took its vote.

“Wish they would have put the season back in order to allow schools sufficient amount of time to make educated plans on how to continue sports,” Viera High football coach Derek Smith wrote in a Twitter message.

“But at least they’re giving kids an opportunity to play.”

At one point during the meeting, a motion to push back the start of practice to Aug. 10 was proposed but then withdrawn after a lengthy discussion.

The board also agreed to meet again later this week, or possibly on Monday, to discuss recommendations made by the FHSAA’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC).

Dr. Jennifer Maynard of the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, chairperson of SMAC, opened Monday’s meeting by stating her group’s recommendation was to delay the start of football and girls volleyball “until further notice.”

The SMAC committee also outlined a series of benchmarks that would be required before football and volleyball could resume which included a downward trajectory of coronavirus cases, a positive-case test rate of less than 5 percent for at least 28 days and two weeks of practices before games could be held.

Several members of the FHSAA board said they would like to have more time to read and digest the information contained in the SMAC report.

In other words, there may still be decisions coming about what will happen this fall.

“I don’t have any reaction,” Holy Trinity football coach Nate Hooks Jr. wrote in a Twitter message. “We’re going to continue working out as if all the dates are still the same.

“If they change their minds, we’ll adjust and adapt.”

While Johns and FHSAA Executive Director, George Tomyn, were clearly in favor of sticking to the original calendar, other board members pushed hard to move the start date back.

The Florida Department of Health reported 10,347 new coronavirus cases on Monday, bringing the state’s overall total to more than 360,000.

“This is something we’ve never seen before,” said board member Mark Schusterman, who is the co-athletic director at Miami’s Riviera Prep.

“And I’m really disturbed that people don’t see the importance of looking at this from a medical standpoint before we put kids out on the field and have competition. A month ago, I would have said this is a problem for Dade, Broward and Palm Beach County.

“But the people that are living in a dream world, (believing) that the rest of the state is not being affected by this, are not seeing reality. We need to delay sports.”

Board member Carlos Ochoa, athletic director at Hialeah Gardens, said the July 27 start date would be tough to meet not only for South Florida football teams, but for other sports like bowling, swimming, cross country and golf which may have trouble finding places to practice, let alone host competitive matches.

Johns, however, argued that if kids are attending school, they should be allowed to play sports and that delaying the fall season until further notice would eventually lead to its cancelation.

The coach also pointed to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has made it clear he not only wants to see schools re-open next month, but he would also be in favor of having football played in the fall.

Johns argued moving football to the spring, as states like California and New Mexico have done, would be potentially devastating for smaller schools that rely on athletes playing multiple sports.

After voting to stick to the July 27 start of practice, the board also considered a motion by Board President Lauren Otero to adopt the second part of the SMAC’s recommendation, which would have had the FHSAA create a standard coronavirus questionnaire for students and their coaches to fill out.

The motion also included the use of thermometers at one point, but ultimately the challenge of making sure all schools would have them – and the questionnaires – in time for the July 27 practice led to motion being defeated by a 12-4 vote.

While school districts will still have the final say on when their programs will be able to begin fall sports, they now have a guideline – and a calendar – set forth by the FHSAA.

Viera High Athletic Director Maggie Davis said the school will be ready for the fall and is expected to opt into the state playoffs for all sports.

“On behalf of the Viera High Athletic Department, we are thrilled with the decision made this evening by the FHSAA Board of Directors,” Davis wrote in an email. “Our athletic administration, coaches, and student-athletes began implementation of many safety protocols during the month of June.

“We have been fortunate enough to have great communication from the Office of Student Services in regards to our Return to Activities Plan. Unlike many other counties, we have been executing many protocols spoke of in tonight’s meeting already and are lucky to have the required equipment such as touchless thermometers to begin the season.

“This has helped our transition into fall sports more seamless, and I look forward to having our student-athletes on campus next week for tryouts. The state series is important to our staff, student-athletes, coaches, and community.

“As long as our student-athlete’s health remains intact, you will be seeing the Hawks come playoff time.”