OKEECHOBEE- In the 2020 school year sports at high schools around Lake Okeechobee looked a little different. There was limited capacity in the stands, facemasks were commonplace, things like the traditional post-game handshakes were changed to a simple wave between the two teams.
All these precautions were put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19. And even with those precautions in place, some teams had their entire seasons impacted by the virus.
The Glades Day Gators football program missed much of the 2020 training camp, along with their first games after a potential exposure put many students on the team on a two week quarantine. The Moore Haven football program had nearly its entire season wrecked by the virus. Missing most of their games.
Schools in Palm Beach County opted out of the FHSAA system all-together for one year, playing instead in a tri-county playoff with Miami-Dade and Broward.
Although some of those precautions are more lax in 2021, many are still in place. Facemasks are less ubiquitous, but the volleyball teams at Okeechobee’s home game against Sebring kept last years practice of the two teams not changing sides between matches, and ended the game with a team wave instead of handshake.
But still, it hasn’t taken long for covid to have an effect on teams this year.
Pahokee’s football team had to quickly reschedule a new opponent for their kickoff classic after Royal Palm Beach canceled due to a covid exposure. Martin County, Vero Beach, South Fork, and John Carroll Catholic have all had to cancel games only two weeks into the season.
Clewiston’s football program started fast this season with a big 42-6 win over Frostproof. But the team was forced to miss their home opener against Bartow on Sept. 3 after an exposure and had to quarantine. The Tigers looked set to return to take on the LaBelle Cowboys in the Hendry County Bowl on Sept. 10, but LaBelle has canceled both their Sept. 2 matchup against Lemon Bay and their upcoming game against the Tigers after announcing a two-week shutdown due to COVID-19.
As of press time the Tigers were looking for an opponent to add to their schedule this week.
Some schools anticipated that covid could cause some games to be canceled and tried to include things like senior night earlier in the season to ensure the seniors on the team are able to be recognized. Okeechobee scheduled their senior night for their first home game of the season, as opposed to waiting for the final home game.
For some kids this will be their last year to participate in high school sports. For those seniors with aspirations of earning a scholarship, this is their last chance to make an impression on colleges. Earning a scholarship is hard enough on its own. But with covid looming over the season threatening to derail the things, it’ll be even harder this year.