High school sports to start later in August

Vero Beach High School football team seeks state record. (WPEC)

The board of the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) voted Friday to launch fall sports later this month, and at the same time, made allowances for schools in areas harder hit by coronavirus to develop their own delayed seasons, even regional playoffs.

For Treasure Coast counties, already in Phase Two reopening, it’s full steam ahead for high school football and other fall sports.

But in Palm Beach County, having fall seasons is more uncertain.

“I’m praying that the kids can at least play five or six games - just to get some games in before college - but I want to make sure that everyone is safe,” said T.J. Jackson, head football coach at Atlantic High School in Delray Beach.

The FHSAA's 11-5 vote opens fall sports practices Aug. 24, with seasons starting Sept. 4.

This doesn't apply to counties still in Phase One, like Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade.

But the measure approved Friday does allow those districts to work with FHSAA and one another to hopefully craft delayed sports calendars and perhaps schedule regional playoffs.

These counties have until September 18 to coordinate alternate schedules with the FHSAA.

Still, South Florida counties will miss out on statewide championships - something that disappointed Coach Jackson.

“I don’t think it’s fair for those kids to be punished by just where their parents decided to move and live,” he said.

Jackson also raised the issue of testing, which has become an important factor for resuming competition at college and professional levels.He said he believes the state should put up money and resources to test high school athletes.

“Let’s just make sure these kids aren’t bringing it back on campus,” he said.

After himself playing in college and the pros, Jackson said he's concerned about his players, especially one honor student who had a phenomenal junior season. Competing this fall could determine whether he qualifies for a scholarship.

“Obviously, I want to see the kids be successful, I want to see them get an opportunity to play football, further their education,” he said. "But I also look at it from the side of health and safety.”

The FHSAA board's vote capped nearly two-and-a half hours of often lively discussion between those favoring forging ahead with playing sports, and those backing a more cautious approach given the current spread of COVID-19.

Dr. Jennifer Maynard of the FHSAA's own Sports Medicine Advisory Committee urged waiting to make sure schools could safely reopen buildings and welcome students, before adding sports into the mix.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, one parent said high school seniors would not have another chance to participate and FHSAA should let them play.