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FHSAA recommends to delay start date for fall practice due to COVID-19

Staff Writer
Northwest Florida Daily News
Northwest Florida Daily News

The FHSAA Fall Sports Task Force voted Wednesday to make a recommendation to push back the start of fall practice to Aug. 10 at the earliest due to the coronavirus pandemic, particularly with the recent rise in cases in the state.

The original start date for fall sports is July 27.

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"We have seen a rise in cases," said FHSAA Board President-Elect Lauren Otero, who is on the task force. "Hopefully that will not be the ongoing trend."

The task force also will take into consideration a proposal made by Justin Harrison, the FHSAA's Associate Executive Director for Athletic Services. That proposal includes multiple options for a range of start dates for schools to choose from, and then depending on which one of those date-range options the schools ended up starting their fall sport within, they would be grouped and divided into classes as far as their respective sports' state series are concerned.

"It's allowing schools to make the best choice for them," he said

Harrison emphasized the plan was a rough draft when he presented it to the task force, and partly due to the fact many on the task force were seeing it for the first time, the idea of having the task force members look at the proposal more closely before moving forward was decided.

Unlike other proposals discussed, Harrison's plan would not change the state series for the majority of the options schools could choose from.

"The idea would be not to change the end of the season," he said. "This is where it actually gets tough."

The task force initially voted 7-7, with Otero then breaking the tie. Not all members were on the call. Mark Rosenbalm, the Coordinator for Interscholastic Athletics at Collier County Public Schools, later changed his vote to in favor.

Rosenbalm had pushed for the task force to not decide on a start date until after schools had started classes to see if there is a rise in positive cases or not.

"To have a start date before that just doesn't make sense to me," he said. "They're students first and athletes second. We need to start after school starts."

The task force, which had previously met on June 23, also looked at presentations regarding safety procedures for officials and also for procedures on handling coronavirus for student-athletes Wednesday.

The task force can only make recommendations, so anything decided upon is non-binding.

The members went back over the vast differences they face in their respective areas, with, for example, most of the South Florida schools on the East Coast still not being able to access their campuses. Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties are behind the rest of the state in the governor's reopening phases. Many other counties have started some semblance of workouts.

Sarasota County did go backwards in its phase for high school sports workouts on Tuesday due to a rise in cases.

During the two-plus-hour Zoom conference call, Blountstown High School athletic director and football coach Beau Johnson said Harrison's proposal fell in line with comments he made emphasizing the possibility of having every school have the same start date may not be the best way to move forward since the coronavirus pandemic is affecting different areas to varying degrees.

"It gives the whole state options," Johnson said of Harrison's plan. "It gives each school district options."

A portion of Harrison's plan that included the option for the latest start date range would not include state series participation. Johnson had said earlier in the call that having a state series may not be possible with so many unknowns.

"That might be a pipe dream for this year," he said.

Rosenbalm wants to try to keep as much of a football season that is both safe and could include fans since the sport generates the bulk of revenue for high school athletic programs.

"If football season doesn't go without a hitch, to if we have to limit fans, it's going to devastate most of our budgets," he said.

John Scarpino of the Mid-Coast Officials Association brought up that some college football programs have revealed positive tests, and that one, the University of Houston, has shut down for the moment due to a number of positive cases.

"When five or six players test positive, do you shut down the entire program or do you play?" he said. "We have to take that into account as well."

FHSAA Associate Executive Director for Administrative Services Jamie Rohrer reminded the members to think about the positives of having any sort of athletics.

"There's no guarantee of any sort of state series," she said. "There's no guarantee that we need any sort of level playing field. We do know that athletics is the No. 1 dropout prevention in high school. ... Participation is good in the sense that some kids are going to go the wrong direction if they don't have the coaches in their lives."

The task force also discussed a proposal that was sent by Carlos Ochoa, the athletic director at Hialeah Gardens and an FHSAA board member, that included swapping the seasons for some sports from fall to spring. That included football. But since spring sports for the 2019-20 academic year were already canceled due to the pandemic, there was hesitancy to have those sports be scheduled for the fall and then have the possibility of them being canceled again for the same reason.

Another proposal sent by the Florida Athletic Coaches Association also had a varied plan of starting dates with three different options to consider.

The task force also discussed even keeping the same July 27 start date, but moving back the actual start of the fall sports season to sometime in September.

Greg Hardwig is a sports reporter for the Naples Daily News and The News-Press. Follow him on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter: @NDN_Ghardwig, email him at ghardwig@naplesnews.com. Support local journalism with this special subscription offer at https://cm.naplesnews.com/specialoffer/