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Aid for hurricane-ravaged schedules

The Florida High School Athletic Association on Tuesday waived the minimum participation requirement athletes and teams need to quality for the postseason. The state will consider more proposals, some by the Pinellas County School District, to help ease the chaos four hurricanes have inflicted on high school athletics.

The rules state that athletes and their teams need to participate in at least four events to be eligible for postseason play. But Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne has made that more difficult this season for golfers, cross country runners and swimmers.

"We've got a great many schools that are just not going to be able to get four contests in in a lot of these sports," FHSAA director of communications Jack Watford said.

"It helps the golfers because a lot of the golf courses have not been available for the matches," Pinellas County athletic director Walter Weller said. "In cross country it's going to help because you've had a lot of meets canceled. The middle section of the season is gone."

What about team sports? Watford said football and volleyball teams need only play four games or the minimum number of district games required.

After Hurricane Frances, the FHSAA waived the limit on the number of contests athletes can participate in a given week to help ease the burden of playing all those makeups. But, as Watford pointed out, "at that time three weeks ago when that was done we didn't foresee two more hurricanes hitting."

Thus the FHSAA decided schools don't have to make up those lost contests. Weller said that helps the county because there aren't enough officials to make up the lost volleyball matches.

At Monday's board meeting in Gainesville, several other hurricane relief proposals will be on the table, including one Weller has been championing for weeks: extending the season to give every sport time to make up all those lost contests.

Adding a week or two to the end of fall's regular season for all sports will be considered, Watford said. It is a request the school district made after Hurricane Frances. But Watford said it is a radical, and difficult, change to make.

Dates already have been locked in for state championship venues. Volleyball, for example, is Nov. 10-13 at the Lakeland Center, while football is Dec. 9-11 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field in Gainesville. "It is extremely problematic in being able to work around the existing agreements with the hosts for these events," Watford said.

Any changes would have to be approved by those venues. If they aren't, the state would find itself scrambling to find new championship sites weeks beforehand.

Weller asked the FHSAA to again consider extending the season, but for all sports. But the waiver of the minimum participation rule indicates to Weller the state won't do it.

"That's a clear sign that they're not going to add anything to the end of the year," he said. "I think it's great that they're doing that. It just means everything has to be plugged in (the regular season.)"

Another issue facing Pinellas County is making up the Week 2 slate of football games, which were postponed after Frances and again after Jeanne.

The county has given schools permission to reschedule the games between now and the playoffs. It also wants its schools to have the option of a Week 11 to make up Week 2, but Watford said such a move needs the FHSAA's approval.

Teams already are permitted to play bowl games Nov. 10, 11 or 13 (a Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday to avoid conflicts with the Friday, Nov. 12 playoffs), provided their records are .500 or better. Waiving that would let schools have a Week 11.

But that raises another issue: what about nonplayoff teams that want to make up a game against a playoff team? Will schools be allowed to add teams to their schedules to get back up to 10 games? The FHSAA has to decide that. But, as Weller said, "Some coaches may not mind not having to make it up."

One other issue left over from Jeanne is the scoreboard the storm knocked down at Pinellas Park's Richard Allen Memorial Stadium. Weller said the school district will provide the school with a temporary scoreboard for the end of football season and the start of soccer.

And it turns out Jeanne did something right for a change.

"The scoreboard was old," Weller said, "and they were already slated to get a new one."