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Time to bid adieu to August’s water-logged prep football

Guest column: To avoid the stormy season, schedule the first regular-season games just before Labor Day.
With rain falling in a torrential downpour last season, Berkeley Prep quarterback Josh Youngblood breaks free for big yardage at Clearwater Central Catholic. [SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times]
Published Aug. 22

After months of arduous preparation, from winter lifting to spring practice to summer conditioning to preseason camp, game day finally arrived for East Bay last Friday.

Veteran coach Frank LaRosa, as stoked as his kids, had his pregame address polished and ready, which stands to reason. It’s the same one he has recited a handful of times in recent years. Goes something like this:

I’m sorry, fellas, they’ve called off our game because of the weather.

MORE PREP FOOTBALL: Sibling rivalry on display in Plant-Armwood

“It’s hard on everybody,” said LaRosa, whose team’s preseason classic against Palmetto was canceled when both schools’ fields were deemed too waterlogged.

“I brought the guys in and just told 'em, 'Hey, this is life, this is what happens when things are out of your control.’ And you just find a way to move on, because there’s nothing we can do. We can’t do anything to change the weather.”

At the local prep level, such scenarios graduated from aberration to annual rite years ago.

Last week, no fewer than 20 kickoff classics involving bay area teams were canceled or postponed due to inclement weather. Springstead and Citrus postponed their Thursday night classic in Spring Hill, then tried to play again Friday before calling it off.

In 2018, the opening night of the regular season (Aug. 24) was a literal wash, with several games starting at least an hour late due to area storms, and some marquee contests (including Hillsborough-Plant) pushed to Saturday. Same with 2017.

“It sucks for the kids because I’ve been on the sidelines for 15 years; they’re on the sidelines for varsity football for two, maybe three, at most four years,” LaRosa said.

“I’ll be here again on Friday night for a while. Time’s ticking fast for them. They don’t get to re-do this.”

A family waits under an umbrella during a delay for the Armwood-Tampa Bay Tech game last season. [TAILYR IRVINE | Tampa Bay Times]

Meantime, Friday’s area forecast calls for a 30 to 40 percent chance of LaRosa breaking bleak news to his kids yet again.

MORE PREP FOOTBALL: Zephyrhills moves to the next quarterback in the queue

This season, most teams in Florida will play three games ― a preseason classic and two regular season contests ― before Sept. 1, which plays right into our climate’s volatile hands.

August typically is the wettest month of the year in these parts, with an average rainfall of nearly 8 inches according to National Weather Service data. That average dips to 6.30 inches in September.

So the solution appears clear, if not mildly tricky: Start the season later. Just a little later. Schedule the first regular-season games the Friday before Labor Day, and not a night sooner.

“It’s a no-brainer,” said Gaither coach Kirk Karsen, whose team’s preseason contest last Friday against Jesuit was canceled. “And it’s not that hard of a solution.”

If such a policy already existed, the first practices of 2019 would have been held Aug. 5 (instead of July 29), the first regular-season games would be played Aug. 30 (not Aug. 24), and the final state championship game would kick off Dec. 21 (not Dec. 14).

Seems do-able. Would storms still barge in on our beloved Fridays from time to time? Sure, but not as routinely as they do in mid-August, which is simply too early for any football games at any level (outside those NFL preseason debacles).

“What about the other sports?” FHSAA director of athletics Edward Thompson said in response to a tweet I delivered last Friday suggesting this very schedule adjustment.

“If each sport is pushed back later, we’ll end up with spring sports well after graduation and even fewer multi-sport athletes.”

Not necessarily. Just push back the start of the spring and winter sports seasons a week later as well.

At worst, you’d have some baseball (and possibly softball) state tournament games being played in early June, when ― as Thompson indicated ― the school year has ended at many places. Big deal.

Plant City won the Class 8A state baseball title (3-1 vs. Strawberry Crest) in Fort Myers last May, on the same date as the school’s graduation.

MORE PREP FOOTBALL: Gaither pulls no punches with football schedule

Many families already lose the latter portion of their summers for the start of fall-sports practices (which commence well before the school year begins). Surely, they’d sacrifice a few days on the front end in the quest for a championship.

Seems a small price to bring prep football in out of the rain (and lightning). While this tweak of the calendar wouldn’t solve all of prep football’s meteorological plights, it would mostly spare guys like LaRosa the grief of psyching his team up Monday through Thursday, only to have them psychologically floored on Friday.

“I tell you what’s hard is to get emotionally charged up and be let down,” he said.

“I know, it’s just high school football. Well, maybe for some people it’s just high school football, but for some of us it’s our life and that’s what we do. So that up and down is very taxing for us.”

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.

High school football, Week 1

All games Friday night.

Clearwater Central Catholic at Berkeley Prep, 7

Carrollwood Day at St. Petersburg Catholic, 7

Central at Umatilla, 7

Cambridge Christian at Winter Garden Foundation Academy, 7

Melbourne Central Catholic at Calvary Christian, 7

Weeki Wachee at South Lake, 7

Zephyrhills Christian at Lake Placid, 7

Bishop McLaughlin at Jacksonville Christ’s Church, 7

Fivay at Lecanto, 7

Lakeland Tenoroc at Hudson, 7

Seven Rivers Christian at Bayshore Christian, 7

Tampa Catholic at Naples Palmetto Ridge, 7

Admiral Farragut at St. Stephen’s, 7

Gibbs at Boca Ciega, 7

Bradenton Christian at Indian Rocks Christian, 7

Shorecrest at Northside Christian, 7

Palm Bay Heritage at Clearwater, 7

East Lake at Nature Coast, 7:30

Plant at Armwood, 7:30

Sunlake at Springstead, 7:30

Pasco at Land O’ Lakes, 7:30

Zephyrhills at Wiregrass Ranch, 7:30

Chamberlain at Tampa Bay Tech, 7:30

Gaither at Jefferson, 7:30

Robinson at Hillsborough, 7:30

Plant City at Jesuit, 7:30

St. Petersburg at Lakewood, 7:30

Northeast at Tarpon Springs, 7:30

Pinellas Park at Palmetto, 7:30

Lake Gibson at Hernando, 7:30

Anclote at Mitchell, 7:30

Cypress Creek at Wesley Chapel, 7:30

Osceola at Gulf, 7:30

River Ridge Crystal River, 7:30

Middleton at Alonso, 7:30

Blake at Riverview, 7:30

Newsome at Bloomingdale, 7:30

Wharton at Brandon, 7:30

Durant at King, 7:30

East Bay at Lennard, 7:30

Freedom at Steinbrenner, 7:30

Strawberry Crest at Leto, 7:30

Orlando Christian Prep at Seffner Christian, 7:30

Sickles at Spoto, 7:30

Immokalee at Clearwater Academy, 7:30

Palm Harbor U. at Dixie Hollins, 7:30

Largo at Braden River, 7:30

Dunedin at Keswick Christian, 7:30

Watch live

Friday’s Plant-Armwood game will be streamed at theidentitytb.com or download The Identity Tampa Bay’s app.

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