The Florida High School Athletic Association’s decision to push the start of fall sports back to at least Aug. 24 due to the coronavirus pandemic may have delayed their seasons, but local athletes, coaches and administrators are determined to stay ready for when they can return to play.
"I feel that pushing back fall sports is disappointing for all athletes, but due to the rise of cases in Florida, I understand that we must do what is necessary for everyone’s safety," Viera High rising senior cross-country runner Isabella Babilonia wrote in an email.
"In the meantime, I’m thankful that I am still able to keep on running during this time, and I will continue training as if there is a season coming up."
Teams are allowed to continue their summer workouts while the FHSAA determines when fall sports will be able to continue.
As part of Thursday night’s 11-4 vote in favor of a motion put forth by board member Doug Dodd of Citrus County, FHSAA Executive Director George Tomyn and his staff, along with the association’s host of committees, must bring recommendations to the next board meeting.
That meeting will be held in person and is set to take place between Aug. 10-17 to allow schools to be ready to go should fall sports actually be allowed to re-start Aug. 24.
Should that happen, and given two weeks to allow for practices and tryouts, the earliest games could be played would be Sept. 7.
"It’s a little setback, but as a team, we still are going to push each other at team workouts until we’re allowed back on the field practicing," Holy Trinity rising senior wide receiver James BlackStrain said.
Thursday night’s vote came just three days after the FHSAA had voted to stick to its original schedule, which meant teams would have been allowed to start practicing this Monday.
That vote proved to be very unpopular around the state, particularly in South Florida, where the coronavirus numbers are the highest in the state and teams would not have been able to start practicing so soon.
In fact, board chairperson and Plant High athletic director Lauren Otero said she conducted a survey before Thursday’s meeting and of the 396 schools who responded, 359 reported they would not be starting practice this Monday.
Earlier in the day, Brevard Public Schools released a statement saying the start of fall sports had been pushed back with not a word about when they might be allowed to resume.
‘I am hesitant to give local control when we represent an entire state," Otero said Thursday night. "To say this county can go now, this county can go now, and then a month later, you all get to go ... that’s not representing the state."
Board member Chris Patricca of Lee County was particularly forceful throughout the night, initially making a motion that the board accept the recommendations of the FHSAA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC) to postpone football and girls volleyball until further notice because of the close contact in both sports and fear of spreading the coronavirus.
Patricca said she preferred to error on the side of caution and wondered how the board could ignore the advice of its medical professionals.
"There are no good answers here," Patricca said. "There is no perfect scenario where we can conduct football safely in the state of Florida and still conduct every other season of sport in the state of Florida.
"We have to be agile. We have to make decisions that we’ve never had to make before because we’re in a circumstance that we have absolutely never been in before."
Dr. Jennifer Maynard, chairperson of SMAC, reiterated her committee’s recommendation that football and volleyball should not be allowed to return until there is a downturn in the number of new cases and positivity rates, along with a rolling average positivity rate of 5 percent or lower over a 28-day period.
Though SMAC considered cross country, golf, bowling and swimming and diving to be low risk, board members did not seem to be interested in allowing those sports to start if football and volleyball could not be included.
Pushing the next meeting date to August might allow the medical committee enough time to look at the state’s updated numbers and evaluate the possible effects of reopening schools.
On the other side of Thursday night’s discussion, Wewahitchka football coach Bobby Johns said he had contacted all 10 opponents on his 2020 schedule and that all 10 were ready to practice this Monday.
Ultimately, though, the board opted to push fall sports back and perhaps come up with a more uniform start date.
"Smart move," Viera High football coach Derek Smith wrote in a Twitter message. "Puts everyone on the same page."
It remains to be seen how schedules will be ultimately affected, or how the state championship series will be impacted. The hope is that the board will address that at its next meeting.
In the meantime, players and coaches will continue to prepare for the start of the season … and hope that it’s on Aug. 24.
"I feel for the student-athletes and coaches who are chomping at the bit to get started," Holy Trinity athletic director James Phillips wrote in an email.
"Summer workouts have been going well for us and, three days ago, it looked like they would be playing competitive games in a couple of weeks.
"However, we are currently the epicenter for a pandemic and to go against the recommendation of the SMAC didn’t seem right. Information on Covid-19 seems to change hour-by-hour, but I am hopeful on August 17th the FHSAA feels confident it will be safe for our student-athletes to return to competition on Aug 24th.
"Sports are so important for our students and we will be ready to start as soon as we are given the green light to do so."