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FHSAA Fall Sports Task Force's "Plan B" takes shape, first practices could begin Aug. 10

Adam Regan
Fort Myers News-Press

Barbara Hodges, executive director at the Florida Council of Independent Schools, was joking when she said she forgot her crystal ball Thursday during a Florida High School Athletic Association Fall Sports Task Force meeting on Zoom.

The ability to see what the landscape of the state hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic looks like a few months into future, especially when determining whether fall high school sports will start promptly on July 27, be delayed or be played at all, would have come in handy.

In the absence of a crystal ball, the task force turned to flexibility in its third meeting where it examined a plan Justin Harrison, the FHSAA's associate executive director for athletic services, called a “fallback” that would cater to individual schools and districts should practice not begin in 18 days.

“There are a lot of unknowns,” said Harrison, who took a rough draft of the plan laid out in last week’s meeting and put it on paper. “Whatever I say may change tomorrow. We don’t have an answer now.”

In case you missed it:FHSAA task force proposes staggered start, new divisions for fall sports

The meeting took place on a day where the Florida Department of Health reported 8,935 new positive COVID-19 cases and 120 new resident deaths related to the disease caused by the coronavirus. In addition, School District of Lee County Superintendent Greg Adkins announced he is prepared to decide by July 20 whether schools will re-open as originally scheduled on Aug. 10.

Members of the Fort Myers High School football team workout on Monday June, 15, 2020. The FHSAA Fall Sports Task Force is in the early stages of developing a flexible plan for the start of fall sports.

Meanwhile, in athletics, a day after the Ivy League canceled fall sports, the Big Ten announced fall sports would play conference-only schedules. Reports came out Thursday the Atlantic Coast Conference planned to follow suit.

The FHSAA isn’t quite ready to adjust its original calendar and is hoping it won’t have to deviate too far from it. On Thursday, the task forces’ “Plan B” started to come into focus.

However, FHSAA Executive Director George Tomyn reiterated the task force has no authority to implement changes. Instead, it must transform the concept into a plan and recommend it to the Board of Directors during a meeting Tomyn said should happen by the end of the month.

“We’re certainly going to follow the lead of our Governor and our commissioner of education,” Tomyn said, adding COVID-19 testing and attendance at games will be up to individual districts.

Last week the task force voted narrowly to explore a rough draft of a plan that gives schools four different windows separated by two weeks to start practice and eventually competition based on the school’s needs. Toward the end of the 150-minute meeting the task force gained some momentum in agreeing to propose three different start dates with the earliest being Aug. 10.

"I'd really like to look at what is the most flexible for schools and districts to do what's best for them," task force member and Clearwater Central Catholic athletic director John Gerdes said. " ... We're just not going to find a one size fits all.”

In the plan for football, golf, bowling, volleyball, cross country and swimming and diving that appeared to be modified by the end of the meeting, Division 1 would start practice from Aug. 10-22 and move to competition starting Aug. 31 at the earliest while Division 2 would begin practice Aug. 24-Sept. 5 and start play as early as Sept. 14. Division 3’s practices would begin Sept. 7 and beyond with play starting Sept. 28.

The plan requires reclassifying teams to group them with other programs of similar sizes that started at the same time. There would be a Sept. 11 deadline for each school to declare which division it falls into.

Mark Rosenbalm, the Coordinator for Interscholastic Athletics at Collier County Public Schools, voted to explore last week’s rough draft of the plan based on the idea that the earliest start date would be Aug. 10. When he saw the plan had the original July 27 date for Division 1, he voiced his disagreement that was noted and adhered to.

"What's the harm in pushing it back?" Rosenbalm said. "You always err on side of caution."

Hialeah Gardens athletic director Carlos Ochoa said any effort to be equitable during this process when the state and South Florida in particular are dealing with record-setting numbers of cases each day isn’t feasible.

“It’s about salvaging what we can,” Ochoa said. “What we’re able to give the best possible experience to our student athletes without putting them in jeopardy, without putting our coaches or officials and our fans in jeopardy, because as it stands right now, it doesn’t look like we’re going to have fans. Financially, this is going to be monumental on every program because we rely on that revenue.”

Representing officials, John Scarpino of the Mid-Coast Officials Association voiced his hesitancy for his colleagues taking the field without uniformed testing and procedures in place for everyone who will be on the field on Friday nights.

"If we can't ensure some proper guidelines across the state, what are we doing?" Scarpino said.

FHSAA Board President-Elect Lauren Otero said the task force would reconvene in the near future to further discuss the plan.