On a frigid February morning at River Ridge High, the Sunshine Athletic Conference executive committee gathered in a small meeting room, sipped coffee from Styrofoam cups and engaged in what turned out to be a fruitless debate.
At that time, there was talk of the state reducing the number of regular-season contests in several sports. Meantime, the finishing touches were being applied to one new Pasco County high school, and the foundation was being poured for another. The SAC was growing, and seasons were shrinking. Abolishing the SAC, or dividing it geographically, seemed to be options. Either way, something had to be done.
Nothing was. The committee opted for the status quo. That was, until last week.
In the wake of a recent Florida High School Athletic Association vote to reduce the regular season to 20 contests in all team sports except football, the committee — comprised of Pasco County's high school principals — elected to divide the 12-team SAC into east-west divisions for five sports (baseball, basketball, soccer, softball, volleyball).
"We were definitely glad," Pasco County athletic director Phil Bell said. "There's been a lot of talk and planning. It kind of came full circle from our January-February meetings."
The proposal, raised at the committee's May 20 meeting at Ridgewood, passed by a 7-3 count (with one abstaining). Teams must play each division opponent at least once, with a team's five-game record in division play determining its place in the standings.
"Something had to be done," said outgoing SAC president Paul Girardi, Gulf's longtime athletic director who is retiring at the end of the school year. "The conference got too large."
The move gives SAC teams a degree of flexibility in their trimmed schedules. Consider Class 4A, District 7, which consists of seven SAC schools. In basketball, coaches have agreed to play each district foe twice, locking each team into 12 games. But five of the six SAC West teams are in the district, meaning those five need only schedule River Ridge — in 4A-8 — to complete their divisional requirement.
In the previous setup, the 4A-7 teams also would have had to play the other five out-of-district SAC opponents at least once, locking them into 17 games.
"I think you still can (play every SAC opponent at least once) but it would certainly limit some flexibility in their schedules; maybe you would not be able to do some different tournaments and stuff like that," Bell said. "I know you will still see teams play their same-side rivals twice; I think that just makes sense. And as we've always done, you try to take care of your in-county opponents first (for scheduling purposes)."
Like the FHSAA's 20-contest limit, the divisional split is in effect only two years and will be re-examined in 2011. SAC executive secretary/treasurer Keith Newton said the conference title in football will remain determined by conference winning percentage.
Other sports (like track, swimming, golf) determine their champions by conference tournaments, which will remain intact.
Castelamare's game shines in Scottish volleyball event
USF senior setter Brittany Castelamare was selected MVP of a national team that recently placed second in the Scottish Open Volleyball Tournament in Perth, Scotland.
A former River Ridge High standout, Castelamare played for one of two teams representing USA Athletes International, a nonprofit organization that gives amateur athletes and coaches the chance to compete in Olympic-style sporting events internationally. Fellow Bulls setter Mariana Thon also was on the team.
In an e-mail to Bulls coach Claire Lessinger from USA Athletes International program coordinator Rick Stebbins, the latter said: "I traveled with the teams and I must tell you, (Castelamare) represented herself, her school and the United States well.
"I would also like to mention that Brittany was chosen and awarded Most Valuable Player. Quite a feat since the winning team was from Scotland and Brittany was a member of the second-place team."
Castelamare and Thon teamed for more than 12 assists a game in the Bulls' 6-2 offense (two setters) last season.
Bulldog signs with St. Johns River CC
Rangy Zephyrhills senior left-hander Chris Fern signed Thursday with St. Johns River Community College, becoming the second east Pasco player to join the Palatka-based program.
Fern finished 4-4 with a 2.13 ERA last season, striking out 45 and walking 28 in 422/3 innings. As a junior, he went 6-2 with a 1.91 ERA. He'll join Pasco shortstop Jake Schrader at SJRCC.