Spring sports season is officially lost for Tampa Bay high schools

The Florida High School Athletic Association announces that no extension through summer will be possible.
Senior Henry Politz and his Jesuit baseball teammates were unbeaten and hoping to win state for a second straight year.
Senior Henry Politz and his Jesuit baseball teammates were unbeaten and hoping to win state for a second straight year. [ Times ]
Published Apr. 20, 2020|Updated Apr. 20, 2020

Scott Hoffman knew it was coming. The announcement that would inevitably end Wharton’s baseball season and spring athletics altogether in Florida.

The Florida High School Athletic Association canceled the rest of the season for spring sports on Monday. The move was expected after Gov. Ron DeSantis announced over the weekend that students would not return to school in-person for the rest of the academic year.

On March 30, the governing body for high school athletics gave teams across the state hope that sports would return, with talks about possibly extending the spring season through June 30. Events were postponed until at least May 3, two days after public schools were aiming to return to class.

“I didn’t see how they were going to extend it anyway,” Hoffman said. “I kind of prepared myself that we weren’t going to be back out there.”

Hoffman’s three seniors have played for him over the past four years. And now, he’s having to find the right words and ways to honor their efforts. His nephew, left-handed pitcher Carson Caso, was on a 3-0 run to start the season. He was hoping to get enough games in to impress scouts. Caso and his family are trying to figure out what his next steps may be.

“When you think about the trickle-down effect, with the NCAA giving another year for some of these seniors, you’re going to have a logjam at some point with seniors that are still there and incoming freshmen,” Hoffman said. “It’s going to be a tough road to figure out and navigate through for any athlete.”

Many in Tampa Bay were excited about the prospect of seniors getting in one last swing at home plate, one last volley on the tennis court and one last goal on the lacrosse field. And county athletic directors from around the state had started holding preliminary talks about what spring sports in the summer might look like and the hurdles involved.

Now athletic programs have to decide how to move on from a lost season and honor their seniors in baseball, softball, tennis, track, lacrosse, flag football, boys volleyball and weightlifting.

The Florida High School Athletic Association also said that no extra eligibility will be granted to student-athletes.

“To all our senior student-athletes, we thank you for dedicating your time and efforts to your school, your coaches, and your teammates,” the Florida High School Athletic Association said in a news release. “Cherish the memories you have made and embrace all that the future holds for you. While we are saddened that you are unable to compete this season, we could not be prouder to have been represented by such hard-working individuals.”

Teams like Jesuit baseball, which has 14 seniors on the roster, feel the loss of a season that is now marked incomplete. The unbeaten Tigers came into this season ranked No. 1 nationally and hoping to win back-to-back state titles for the first time in school history. Now it will be a season of what might have been thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s been tough, but obviously it’s something we’ve kind of been expecting for a little bit,” Tigers coach Miguel Menendez said. “But until the official word comes down, you’re still kind of holding out hope that they may try to figure out a way...”

Menendez, like many other area coaches, agrees with the decision, but just wishes the situation could have played out differently.

“It’s tough to explain to a group of 16-, 17-, 18-year-old men, who to them, baseball is kind of everything,” Menendez said. “How do I — I’m not even there in person, I’m here via computer. I can’t even be there to help them walk through this thing. And it’s nobody’s fault, it just is what it is.”

His players are disappointed. Jesuit started 9-0 before games came to a halt. But Menendez said that as good as his team felt about its chances, no one could have predicted where the Tigers would stand at the end of the year. That is why he always emphasizes the journey.

“You never know what’s going to happen,” he said. “... I feel more bad for the guys that are never going to play baseball again."

Matthew Hernandez, flag football coach at Alonso, has tried to help his team adjust to a world without spots. They played Scattergories via a Zoom call on Sunday night.

“We were able to make it work,” he chuckled. “Now we’re trying to think of other games since it worked so well.”

Last Monday, the underclassmen honored their 13 seniors with a 30-car drive-thru around the Westchase area. The players drove by with their parents, honking horns in decorated vehicles and waving their posters from afar.

“It was a good idea,” Hernandez said. “But putting it into practice, I didn’t realize the logistics of having 30 cars stay together through that area. It was great and they loved it.”

Hernandez added that moments like that one make days like today a little easier for his team.

His Ravens won back-to-back Class 2A state titles in 2018 and 2019. There wasn’t a shortage of talent this year, either. Staying in tradition, he had each senior write down her favorite moments.

“In years past, all of them always pick the goofiest, funniest, embarrassing moments about teammates,” Hernandez said. “And this year was totally different. All of their favorite moments were really heartfelt and legitimate things they loved about their experience.”

Among the favorite memories were winning state, playing at the Bucs’ indoor facility in a preseason game against fellow defending state champ Robinson in front of the bands and Bucs executives, and making their best friends on Alonso’s field.

“I think any coach loves hearing that,” Hernandez said.

For East Lake’s track and field program, Monday’s news was "absolutely the right move,” coach Britt Taylor said. “We saw it coming for a while. But it’s very disappointing.”

Parker Valby was on course for another historic season with the Eagles. She set a state record as a junior in the 3,200-meter race and had the third-fastest time regardless of classification at state cross county in the fall. She accomplished the majority of her goals, including receiving a scholarship offer to the University of Florida, Taylor said.

“We talked (Sunday) about how she’s fortunate because there are tons of other senior athletes who didn’t get an opportunity to showcase themselves for college," Taylor said. “She’s very fortunate and very blessed."

Contact Mari Faiello at Follow @faiello_mari.