Private schools create new athletic leagues

While Orange County Public Schools has suspended sports, private schools such as The First Academy, Foundation Academy and Windermere Prep will play as part of new leagues this fall.

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  • | 3:12 p.m. August 26, 2020
Edward Byrd participates in drills during the first practice of the season Monday, Aug. 24.
Edward Byrd participates in drills during the first practice of the season Monday, Aug. 24.
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Out in the Florida humidity, the Foundation Academy football team gets its first day of practice in on the field behind the school’s gym.

It looks and feels somewhat similar to any regular practice, but for head coach Brad Lord, COVID-19 had made even the smallest things a little more challenging.

“It’s little things that you took for granted,” Lord said. “Like water — (it’s) a very big thought process with how we get the kids water. … But we figured it out. 

“And I bought shields for their face protectors, and they’re going to wear masks on the sidelines under the shields, then they go in the game and take off their masks,” he said. “We’re getting real good at this. As coaches, I didn’t know if I could handle wearing a mask on the sidelines — well, I’ve worn a mask to workouts every day this week.”

Like many students around the state, the Lions were enjoying the official start of the fall sports season — Monday, Aug. 24 — but unlike Orange County Public Schools, Foundation and the area’s other private schools are readying for a season that will be one to remember. The Florida High School Athletic Association this year is allowing each county to determine if and when fall sports will take place. OCPS has suspended sports indefinitely, so schools such as Foundation, The First Academy and Windermere Prep have helped form new leagues comprised of private schools in Orange County.

In Foundation’s case, the Lions’ fall programs will compete in the newly formed Private Athletic Conference (dubbed the PAC-8) alongside Faith Christian, The Geneva School, Lake Mary Prep, Mount Dora Christian Academy, Orangewood Christian, Orlando Christian Prep and The Master’s Academy. Meanwhile, Windermere Prep and TFA joined Bishop Moore Catholic, Lake Highland Prep, Montverde Academy and Trinity Prep in The Citrus League.


In early July, members of the PAC-8 came together to begin conversations. From there, the ideas flowed, Foundation Academy Athletic Director Lisa Eaves said.

“The basis behind it — kind of what we are doing with ours — is we have committed to playing each other in the first five to six weeks of the athletic season,” Eaves said. “We’re all going to do the same event protocols, so we are not concerned with what they’re doing at school necessarily — but most of us are doing similar things. 

“What we were concerned about was the event protocol and that we would be able to go to each other’s schools and know that we are all doing the same thing,” she said. 

For scheduling, the league will have its teams play only one team per week. That will allow for easier contact tracing in the event of a COVID-19 case, Eaves said.

File photo
File photo

“So (for) volleyball we’re going to play home and away, so we’re only going to play one team,” she said. “We’re going to know that if Orangewood has an issue and they only played us that week, that’s easy — instead of playing three teams in a week and trying to figure it out.”

Just like the PAC-8, The Citrus League — which has been in development since March — is putting into place a similar construct. However, instead of five to six weeks, its teams will be competing exclusively in the pod for the entire fall season. Schools will be able to opt in for postseason play, TFA Athletic Director Will Cohen said.

In addition, each school will play one school in all sports for that week. The end result helps get some control over possible COVID issues, said Windermere Prep Athletic Director Pat Hollern.

Along with the scheduling, protocols such as the use of face masks, sanitation and more will be put into place based on guidance from a team of athletic trainers and team doctors.

“We’ve looked at other states, we’ve looked at our own state’s recommendations,” Hollern said.  “What our goal is, beginning this week, is that our coaches of each of these sports will meet to lay out some guidelines, as well as guidelines that we have provided. We want involvement — this isn’t just six ADs, this is a six-school commitment to a bigger plan of togetherness and collaboration.”


Just as with players, coaches and staff, keeping crowds safe is also another point of concern.

Although coaches in both new leagues will be helping to oversee on-the-field/court protocols, in the stands, the athletic directors will be in charge.

Both the PAC-8 and The Citrus League will require numerous steps for those fans attending games this fall — whether it be in the gym or at the football field, Cohen said.

“Each of us (has) worked on social distancing our gym and what the number (capacity) is that we may look at, as well as some of our outdoor sports,” Cohen said. “It’s going to be school-to-school, but we want to be very consistent. At The First Academy, at Lake Highland Prep, at Windermere Prep … when you walk on our campus, you’ll be doing the exact same thing — you will be getting temperature-checked, you will be wearing masks.”

Likewise, Foundation Academy and the others schools in the PAC-8 will utilize the same measures as it relates to masks and temperature checks. However, social distancing will be done a bit differently in the stands, Eaves said.

“We decided we cannot control social distancing, because we don’t know who is who — 10 people come into a game together, and they say they’re family, well, we don’t know that,” Eaves said. “We’re going to create some announcements in the evening reminding everybody, ‘Please remember to use your mask,’ and we’re going to have sanitation stations at the concession stand.”

Although the protocols will take some time to get used to, there is growing excitement around the two leagues from coaches and ADs alike.

“I hope this PAC-8 stays,” Lord said. “I hope we do it next year even if there isn’t any COVID, because it’s great. They’re all local games, and I don’t have to travel all over the state like I had to since they did away with district play four years ago. This is nice.”


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