Performers to return to OCPS sidelines

A message to OCPS principals from superintendent Dr. Barbara Jenkins gave the all-clear to restart programs that were left out of Friday Night Lights.

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  • | 11:45 a.m. September 23, 2020
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It’s been a long and frustrating journey for Orange County Public Schools parents and students who have been fighting to get marching band, cheer, dance and JROTC back onto the sidelines for Friday Night Lights.

When OCPS announced it wasn’t going to be allowing members of the different groups participate during football games this season in late August, parents and students around the county erupted with a torrent of rage and confusion to the decision.

Although football and other sports would be allowed to finally get their seasons underway after a lengthy delay due to COVID-19, many took to social media to voice their displeasure — including a group of OCPS parents who formed the “All for One, One for All for Friday Nights Lights” group on Facebook. High-schoolers participated in a rally Wednesday, Sept. 2, at Lake Eola, and West Orange High School senior Sarah Paquette — a marimba player and a percussion section leader — started a petition that garnered more than 7,000 signatures.

It seems the sentiment hasn’t gone unnoticed.

“After review of the data, we are comfortable with allowing cheerleaders, pep bands, dancers and color guard to attend the game if desired,” OCPS Superintendent Dr. Barbara Jenkins said in a message sent to district principals late last week.

Although there are no specifics as to how the plan will go into action, it’s believed the decision will be left up to each school. In an email obtained by the Observer, Windermere High School Principal Douglas Guthrie said the programs only would be allowed to perform at home games, while each group would be limited in participants, including 20 for cheer, 20 for dance and 60 for marching band. 

But regardless of the specifics, the news was met by excitement from both parents and students.

“I’m so excited,” said Patti Tozzi, whose daughter, Sydney Tozzi, is a senior on the West Orange High dance team. “I felt like, ‘Wow, our voices were heard,’ and we were able to use our voices for our children, and our children used their voices as well — they did their part in the fight to be heard.”

For Paquette, the news came as a shock.

“It really seemed like they weren’t going to go further than that — they gave restrictions to football players and they gave band a little more freedom, and I kind of thought that was where they were going to end,” Paquette said. “I was completely not expecting them to release that decision — it’s really unexpected.”

However, despite the news, there still remains the issue of facing schools possibly being shut down because of outbreaks on campus.

Most recently, West Orange High was the latest school to be shutdown as 10 positive cases of COVID-19 shifted the school entirely to LaunchED@Home — which started Monday, Sept. 21, and will run through Friday, Oct. 2. There were 159 students and staff members who were identified as having direct contact with individuals who tested positive.

“I’m so excited. I felt like, ‘Wow, our voices were heard,’ and we were able to use our voices for our children, and our children used their voices as well — they did their part in the fight to be heard.”

—Patti Tozzi, whose daughter, Sydney Tozzi, is a senior on the West Orange High dance team

Because of the shutdown, it appears West Orange football team will lose out on two more football games — after having its game against Evans canceled because of cases on Evans’ team. There is hope, however, said Orange County School Board member Pam Gould, that the team could possibly still play this week — though a decision had not been made by press time Tuesday.

If West Orange isn’t allowed to take the field, it will be a bittersweet moment for those parents and students at the school.

“We were just kind of bummed,” Patti Tozzi said. “We were so excited that we were going to be the game versus Boone on Friday and they could start getting prepared to have that experience again, but then we got word pretty quickly that was definitely not happening. But I do look at the other schools who are going to have that and the kids that get to enjoy their Friday Night Lights in the next few weeks, and I’m so excited for them.”

Even when marching band is allowed to perform Friday nights, it will look different this year, said both Paquette and Michelle Territo — whose daughter, Josie Territo, is a senior drum major at West Orange.

The band only has had two rehearsals this year, and with missing band camp and the lack of time, there probably won’t be a halftime show — meaning bands will probably just stick to playing the normal songs during a game.

“It is an issue at this point — we’re halfway past September, and usually, the kids would have been practicing their show for at least a month-and-a-half,” Michelle Territo said. “It’s not like, ‘OK, go, band.’ You have to teach 200 people a show, so I’m not sure how that will work out, but I know at least they were very happy about being able to play together.”

In the end, for seniors such as Paquette, it doesn’t matter how they do things in the band. All that matters is that they’re allowed to do it just once.

“Band is my family, and I think it’s really important that we have at least one performance together — one game together,”  Paquette said. 


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