Still no answers from FHSAA

Collier County: Err on the side of caution

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GAINESVILLE - With an intention to not change dates for the upcoming fall sports season, but, more importantly, keeping in line with state and federal regulations pertaining to the COVID-19 situations, the Florida High School Athletic Association conducted yet another Board of Directors and Task Force meeting on Thurs., July 9.

Justin Harrison, the associate executive director at FHSAA, George Tomyn, the FHSAA director and Lauren Otero, the president of the FHSAA Task Board and athletic director at Tampa Plant High School, all bantied around ideas with the rest of the board and task force; 11 more attendees from around the state, addressing the issue of starting fall sports.

One member of the Task Force, John Gerdes, athletic director at Clearwater Central Catholic High School, simply said one answer is not going to fit the bill.

"It's impossible to have one size fit all, whether it's this task force or anyone else," said Gerdes. "I think we want to see every school do what's best for them."

Otero, who noted that more than 400 people had registered to watch the Thursday ZOOM meeting, cited that a proposal was put together with Harrison and some ideas from the task force that had four different start dates for the fall sports teams dependent on the COVID-19 situation in particular parts of the state and school district's readiness to address safety concerns. Otero also noted that four FHSAA members on the Task Force did not vote for the discussed proposal.

"I do feel that everyone across the state is very interested in knowing what his going on," said Otero. "The intent of this meeting was to hear from Mr. Harrison to outline for us the details of this plan. It also gives the Task Force an opportunity for questions."

Harrison, wno, according to Tomyn only had his name affixed to the proposal because he put it on paper and distributed it.

"What you (Task Force) sees in front of you is not a proposal from the FHSAA," said Tomyn. "It is not a staff iniatitive and, although referred to as Justin's plan, or Mr. Harrison's plan, he was just an author of a draft form that our staff had looked at. This is merely an attempt on capturing (the Task Force) intent from the last Task Force meeting."

Tomyn again put the onus on the Task Force to make decisions based on the proposal and advise the FHSAA.

"Our current calender has not changed and remains the same as previously published," said Tomyn. "The FHSAA classifications of sports has also not changed."

The proposal centered around four possible start dates for Florida schools pertaining to their readiness; Four divisions with start dates of July 27, August 10, August 24 and September 7 with first games to be staged August 17-29, August 31-Sept 12, Sept. 14-Sept. 26 and Sept. 28 and beyond.

The FHSAA would be tasked to reclassify schools according to what schools started on what date and the school's population.

Harrison compared the preparations for the season nearly the same as adjusting to Florida's hurricane seasons which interrupt schedules and season throughout the state.

"The first task force meeting dealt with the competitive balance because some schools did not know when they were going to start," said Harrison. "The idea was to start all schools on July 27 and, if schools were unable at that date, our staff could adjust. The end of season dates were not going to change."

Harrison main idea was to get schools to start their season and, if there was an occurrence, adapt.

"If we got to a point where things had to change based on what has happening," said Harrison. "The current calender has two weeks to acclimatize; the third week, a preseason event and the fourth week, to begin regular season play. We are trying not to go away from that."

Two questions asked about the use of the four divisions was from Carlos Ochoa, athletic director of Hialeah Gardens High School, who saw the timetable as limiting schools in his area to maybe just five games in the season (football) from the late start date and the non-changing playoff dates. Ochoa's second question dealt with school sizes and classifications within the four divisions.

"If someone chooses a division four start date and the playoffs don't change, you are limited to five contests or half a season," said Ochoa. "I don't think that would be quite fair to take half a season's worth of work and put against school's that started in early divisions with maybe eight games or a full season."

Mark Rosenbalm, the athletic director at Collier County, was strongest in asking the FHSAA and the Task Force to not rush the idea of a start date.

"I thought we voted that the earliest start was going to be August 10," said Rosenbalm. "It makes sense to push things back just like the colleges, the pros, maybe shortening the seasons. I don't understand why you don't want that. You can't compare this to anything because noone has ever seen anything like this. I believe you are ignoring all the requirements the schools are doing just to get kids in the building. Why not push the dates back? What's the harm? You err on the side of caution."

Dr. Barbara Hodges, of the Florida Council of Independent Schools, feared that the small, southern Florida schools that dominate the FCIS, are in fear of a possible school session with no fall sports.

"South Florida things are extremely bad," said Hodges. "They fear no football and no girls volleyball. Golf courses don't want anyone out there."

One final thought came from John Scarpino, director of athletic wellness at Seminole State College, who addressed the medical risks for the officials.

"We know the median age of officials is right in the mid-50s," said Scarpino. "Even if you play the games, there may not be enough officials willing to take the risk. I don't see any medical recommendations with regards for not only sports officials, but for schools to open up."

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