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Fall prep sports in state won’t start before Aug. 24

The Florida High School Athletic Association voted on the postponement Thursday night.
Hernando County was the latest to postpone the fall season indefinitely Thursday, meaning there is no set date for cheerleaders and football players, among other athletes, to anticipate games.
Hernando County was the latest to postpone the fall season indefinitely Thursday, meaning there is no set date for cheerleaders and football players, among other athletes, to anticipate games. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times (2019) ]
Published Jul. 24, 2020

Following the lead of a majority of state school districts, the Florida High School Athletic Association's board of directors voted Thursday to postpone the start of its fall sports season.

In a motion that passed by an 11-4 vote, the board voted to delay the first allowable practice date for all fall sports to at least Aug. 24. The motion included a stipulation the association’s staff will meet in person with its half-dozen or so advisory committees, and bring recommendations to another board meeting to be held no later than Aug. 17.

“There are no good answers here,” Lee County school board member Chris Patricca said midway through the virtual meeting, which stretched slightly more than three hours.

“There is no perfect scenario where we can conduct football safely in the state of Florida and still conduct every other season of sport in the state of Florida. We have to be agile. We have to make decisions that we’ve never had to make before because we’re in a circumstance that we have absolutely never been in before.”

The decision came three nights after the same board voted not to adjust the fall sports calendar, which permitted teams to begin practice Monday if their local school districts and government agencies allowed it.

Between meetings, all four Tampa Bay-area counties (Hernando, Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas) announced they were postponing the start of their respective fall sports seasons.

Related: Pasco County pushes back start of fall sports season

Board chairperson Lauren Otero, athletic director at Plant High, said that of the 396 state public schools that responded to her own survey, 359 indicated they would not start practice Monday.

Thursday’s proceedings represented the glaring contrast in the effects of COVID-19 between the rural Panhandle and densely populated areas such as Miami-Dade County. Bobby Johns, football coach at tiny Gulf County school Wewahitchka, noted his team — and the 10 opponents on his 2020 schedule — were set to start practice Monday.

Miami-Dade hasn’t even pondered a start date. Similarly, Pasco has pushed back the start of its fall season to Sept. 7, while Hillsborough is delaying until Aug. 10. Hernando and Pinellas have postponed their start dates indefinitely.

That statewide disparity prompted a number of board members to indicate starting dates should remain local decisions. “I am hesitant to give local control when we represent an entire state,” Otero said.

“And to say that this county can go now and this county can go now, and a month later, you all get to go — that’s not representing a state.”

The meeting’s outset included a motion by Patricca that a sprawling set of guidelines set forth by the association’s sports medicine advisory committee be adopted as its official guidelines, with the expectation that individual school districts follow them.

Among those guidelines: delaying the start of football and volleyball practice until two to three weeks after a district’s brick-and-mortar schools have opened. It also advised against beginning a fall season until a school district’s county shows an average COVID-19 positivity rate of 5 percent or less for a rolling 28-day period.

Patricca later withdrew the motion. Nonetheless, the board’s eventual decision to postpone the starting date to Aug. 24 could result in an overhaul of the fall calendar on the back side. If the association elects to push the state playoff series to January or February, winter and spring sports could be compromised.

“How in the world are you gonna play all these sports at the same time?” Clearwater Central Catholic athletic director John Gerdes said. ”For the small schools, that’s a real burden — a real burden.”