PAHOKEE — It has been months now since the Pahokee Blue Devils football team has been able to do anything team-oriented.
While other teams around Lake Okeechobee continue with their conditioning, the Blue Devils and Glades Central Raiders are on standby. Late in July, the School District of Palm Beach County said all athletics would be on hold until further notice amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) board of directors is scheduled to meet Aug. 17 to discuss options on resuming fall sports.
Blue Devils coach D.J. Boldin doesn’t know how things will play out, but says he’s keeping an eye on not only the FHSAA but what athletics directors at the collegiate level are doing.
“I’ve been paying attention to what the college ranks are doing,” explained Boldin. “And the fact that many college conferences are opting to cancel their football season, I just cannot see how high school football can happen — given that colleges have way more resources and finances to potentially have a season.”
On Aug. 8, NCAA’s Mid-American Conference (MAC) made the decision to postpone its entire fall sports season, making them the first Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) conference pull out of playing this fall.
Following that announcement, ESPN reported that the Big Ten and Pac-12 were considering announcing the postponement or cancellations of their fall sports as well.
MAC’s medical advisory board advised conference leaders to suspend the season, which echoes what FHSAA’s own medical advisory board has said.
“Although all members of the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee acknowledge the incredible benefits of sports participation on both the physical and mental health of our youth,” said FHSAA’s medical board chairperson Dr. Jennifer Maynard, “it is imperative that we take into account the scientifically proven risks of this very novel and unpredictable virus as we make recommendations.
“It is important to recognize that developing medical evidence indicates possible detrimental impacts of SARS-CoV-2 on the lungs, heart and increased risk of formation of blood clots throughout the body,” continued Dr. Maynard.
Following the medical advisory board’s report, the FHSAA Board of Directors voted to delay start of sports around the state to Aug. 27.
The FHSAA is now considering three different options for restarting sports ahead of their next meeting.
The first option being considered would have Sept. 7 become the new first date of the regular season, with the last date falling in line with the normal calendar. Current schedules would remain the same under option one, with schools having the option to reschedule any games missed due to the calendar change.
Option two would set the first date of practice on a yet to be determined day after August, with the stipulation that the first date of the regular season must occur two weeks after that day. Option two would eliminate the state championships for fall sports.
In option three, traditional fall sports such as football and girls volleyball would be moved to the winter, with the first date of the regular season falling on Dec. 14 and the last date of the regular season being Jan. 23, and winter sports such as basketball and soccer moving their first regular season date to March 1 and last date to April 3.
“My personal preference is to delay the season and give the leaders of the nation, medical boards and districts more opportunity to come up with an effective plan that benefits all parties involved without putting players and coaches in a compromising position,” said Boldin. “I say start the season in October. I know it’s possible because the northern states like Michigan already do it.”
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, sent Gov. Ron DeSantis a proposal on Aug. 6 that outlined his plan for a safe return for high school sports.
“As it has always been, the safety and well-being of our student-athletes must be the top priority,” Rubio wrote. “This means protecting them from the dangers posed by COVID-19, but also protecting them from the significant socio-developmental harm of not being allowed to return to play.
“These protocols do not guarantee that zero infections will occur among student-athletes, coaches or game officials,” continued Rubio. “However, if adhered to, this protocol represents the best realistic practices available to us right now to significantly mitigate against the risk of infection and spread during competition.”
Rubio’s proposal called for every student-athlete and all athletics personnel to be screened before participating in any aspect of in-person athletics activities. A person who exhibits any signs of the virus such as fever, cough, loss of taste and smell, and so on for 72 hours before a game would not be allowed to participate.
Antibody testing was recommended for every participant, coach and official within 72 hours of each game. Schools would be required to notify a previous opponent tests positive for COVID-19 within five days of the game occurring.
The proposal included a wide range of physical distancing guidelines such as:
• The team box should be extending on both sides of the field to the 10 yard line.
• Require social distancing of 6 feet at all times while in the team box.
• Extend the 2-yard sideline belt to 5 yards where feasible.
• No sharing of towels or equipment between players.
• Each game official and player should have their own beverage container.
• Add five seconds to the play clock, do not allow offensive and defensive huddles and require coaching staffs to utilize other methods of communication with players (such as signals, cards, signs) to minimize grouping.
• For the coin toss, limit attendees to the referee, and one designated representative from each team, in the center of the field, with all participants at least 6 feet apart and no handshakes prior to or following the coin toss.
• All pregame responsibilities should be performed by maintaining 6 feet distance with all officiating crew, game administration staff, line-to-gain crew, clock operators, and individuals handling the balls during the game and team personnel.
• Pre-game, quarter, half-time and post-game meetings should occur outdoors, socially distant.
• No postgame hand shaking or interactions between opposing teams.
• Limit access to sidelines and field exclusively to players, coaches, game officials and crew, training and medical personnel and one accredited member of the media and one photographer providing pool coverage for all outlets.
Under Rubio’s proposal all players must use approved plastic shields covering the entire face, either integrated into the face mask or attached to the helmet. Game officials would have the authority to penalize repeated violations of any of the masking or distancing rules as they would an equipment or sideline violation, by removing a player from the field for non-compliance, or by issuing a 5-yard penalty for on-field or sideline violations after one warning.
The increased measures of safety would cost extra money that most schools don’t have.
“The current school budget does not allow for all of the amenities it takes to create a safe atmosphere for students and athletes,” Boldin said. “Therefore we need a brand new school budget and those funds can only come from federal funding.”