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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, Jul. 29, 2020 1 week ago

Uncertainty shrouds upcoming high school sports season

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The Florida High School Athletic Association continues to push back the start time of the fall season; OCPS has decided to postpone sports indefinitely.
by: Troy Herring Sports Editor

Much has happened over the course of the last 10 days regarding high school sports in Florida.

Last week, the Florida High School Athletic Association held two separate emergency meetings — the first on Monday, July 20, and a second Thursday, July 23.

Although the first meeting lasted five hours, the 16-member FHSAA Board of Directors did not finalize a plan for the upcoming fall season and decided to stick with its option of having the season begin July 27. The decision was overturned that Thursday, when the board of directors decided in an 11-4 vote to postpone all fall sports until Aug. 24.

The final decision — which also included a requirement that the board meet for an in-person meeting before Aug. 17 to discuss the latest information regarding COVID-19 — was preceded by a three-hour discussion during which the board addressed a variety of topics.

“When the data hits, that exposure was probably about a week prior, so our data is going to be delayed,” said Dr. Jennifer Maynard, a member of the sports medicine advisory committee. “I absolutely — and I’m not a voting member of this board — appreciate the pause button.”

Although the season would start Aug. 24, a two-week period of practices is required before competition can begin — meaning the first games of the fall season would not occur until Sept. 7.

Many public-school systems, however — including Orange County Public Schools — already announced postponements of the fall season with no date to return. Despite the delay, fall athletes across the state still will be allowed to participate in pod workouts and conditioning.

The decisions made at the higher levels of state athletics are choices that many — including West Orange High football coach Mike Granato — are glad they don’t have to make. 

“I know that everyone has safety on the mind, and that’s obviously going to play paramount for everybody, but the biggest thing for a lot of us coaches is not having a date,” Granato said. “Whether you’re going to make it October, November or if you’re going push it back to January, the word ‘indefinitely’ is kind of off-putting and upsetting a lot of people, because it looks like we’re not making any solid decisions.”

Granato and his staff are working 10-hour days to keep the program’s pod workouts going, and it’s just not the same, he said.

Granato isn’t alone. West Orange senior cornerback Jaden Floyd is trying to adjust to a final season he hopes can happen without further complications.

“Life has been OK —  just getting around the guys and us putting some quality work in and some quality time together, it just feels good to be back,” Floyd said. “Hopefully everything is contained soon, and we can all be together as a team again.”

As players and coaches continue to experience uncertainty, another vital group that keeps athletics going is experiencing its own existential crisis.

Referees around the state have been sidelined since March. One of those referees is Horizon West resident Mark Doherty, who refs soccer and lacrosse.

Although his two sports are in the winter and spring timeframe, Doherty has been affected all year and believes it will continue unless something changes. It already has affected refs — many of whom are generally older — in more ways than one, he said.

“It’s hurt us in the development of officials, it’s hurt us in the pocketbook — because there are no games to do — and I know it has hurt us in recruiting and retention,” said Doherty, who has more than 20 years of officiating experience. “We have referees I know (who) are like, ‘I’m not going back, I’m done.’ There are refs (who) don’t want to put themselves in any type of danger — because they have other underlying conditions — and others just don’t want the hassle.”

The possible long-term effects of COVID-19 on the reffing community could be extensive, Doherty said. For now, the only option is to sit and wait as they — and everyone else — live with this new, strange time.

“We can deal with coaches (who) may be passionate for the game and argue a call … and parents that are enthusiastic and are worried about the safety of the kids,” Doherty said. “We know how to handle those situations — but this is new territory.”

Troy Herring is the sports editor at the West Orange Times and Windermere Observer. He is a graduate of the University of Mount Olive (BS '12) and the University of Alabama (MA '16)....

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