Note: WNZF will broadcast the Potato Bowl live from FPC.
Flagler County schools’ weirdest fall football season of all is set to start with the first two games scheduled for Sept. 16 and 17 between Matanzas High School and Flagler Palm Coast High School–Junior Varsity at Matanzas next Thursday at 6 p.m., and the Varsity “Potato Bowl” at FPC at 7 p.m. on Sept. 18. The games will be live-streamed.
“I’m excited, I’m looking forward to it,” FPC Athletic Director Steve DeAugustino said today. “Of course everybody’s got to be–especially athletic teams–vigilant on how they conduct themselves outside of schools, I think that’s where most of our problems would occur.”
It’s a football and sports season reconfigured by the vagaries of the coronavirus pandemic. Unlike in professional sports, which have banned all fans, spectators will be allowed in the stands in Flagler’s games, but attendance at FPC will be limited to 640 people in the stands, or about 13 percent of the stadium’s capacity of 5,000. No tickets will be sold at the gate. The $10 tickets–up from $8 last season–are being sold exclusively through the two schools’ athletic departments, with priority for seniors, team family members and faculty, as the Potato Bowl is being paired with Senior Night.
“We’re pre-selling tickets and we’re about sold out now,” DeAugustino said. No tickets will be sold at the stadiums the nights of the games. (Ticketing information can be found for Matanzas here and for FPC here, and more directly here. Spectator guidelines are here.) “I don’t know how many tickets we’ll have left to sell,” DeAugustino said. “It’s not going to be many, it may be none, to just regular fans, but hopefully they’ll take advantage of the live stream and still be able to watch it.”
Face masks will be mandatory for all fans entering the stadium, and wearing them will be mandatory whenever a fan is circulating, going to the bathroom, going to the concession stand or otherwise not social distancing. No backpacks will be allowed. Standing along any fencing will be prohibited. Spectators will be barred from visiting with athletes and team personnel before, during and after each game. That goes for family and friends as well: they will be barred from competitors’ areas at all times. Spectators will also be asked not to congregate anywhere in walkways and hallways, and athletes will be expected to leave the fields of play immediately after each game.
For all that, DeAugustino expects a lot of uncertainty ahead, down to the scheduling of games. “The possibility that something is going to change is really big,” he said, and not just for football. Fall sports include cross country, bowling, golf, swimming, competitive cheer and volleyball. DeAugustino said teams and spectators should get used to the new norms, including the uncertainties, few of which are in the school’s control. He said he could get a phone call any time from any of the other teams FPC is scheduled to play, saying that the opponents’ team has been quarantined. “The schedule is really a fluid document the way I look at it this year,” he said.
And, he cautioned: “It could be their only game if things don’t go well.”
Bands’ travel will be limited. Bands will appear at the Potato Bowl, however.
Pre-season games have been scrapped, and the season pushed forward about three weeks or so, leaving seven games on FPC’s schedule for now. FPC has four home games and three away games between Sept. 18 and Nov. 6, with Oct. 23 an open date that could be filled, and the possibilities of additional games tacked on at the end of the season. DeAugustino said the team can be scheduled for additional games until state finals.
FPC usually fills its stadium on football nights: DeAugustino doesn’t remember seeing too many empty seats last year. So restricting attendance to just 640 people will hurt finances, since the team depends on attendance and concessions to make ends meet. “We’re going to have to tighten up,” DeAugustino said. That’s why the slightly higher ticket price. The athletic director hopes to return to the $8-a-ticket that was in play last year if the stands are opened up for more fans. Concessions will be sold at games, but there won’t be burgers, hot dogs and other cooked food. It’ll all be pre-packaged, snacky stuff.
Same goes for Pirates Stadium at Matanzas High School, which has a capacity of 2,400, and where fans will be limited to the low hundreds.
This year’s Potato Bowl was scheduled to be held at Matanzas. But that was for a normal year. It was moved to FPC because of the larger stadium there.
So far, with the third week of school approaching its conclusion, the district has been powering on, even as more than two dozen cases of covid-19 have been confirmed among faculty and staff, including seven at FPC: the seventh, involving a staff member, was confirmed today. (The staff member is Principal Tom Russell’s secretary, which will require both to self-quarantine.)
Students are doing their part to stay safe, or as safe as they can be, given the circumstances and the unpredictability of a pernicious and promiscuous virus. “Super proud of our students who are here, decided to come to brick and mortar school, on campus school classes,” DeAugustino saod, “because they’re being great, everybody is wearing masks. One of my duties is be at the front door is hand out masks to kids that forget them. This is the end of our third week, I think I’ve given out 12 or 13.”
The district has three options for schooling this year: in-person instruction, and two remote options. One is “live-remote,” with classes streamed live to students at home. The other is a version of Florida Virtual School, or iFlagler. The district’s athletic programs are open to all students enrolled in the county regardless of which option they chose, including home-schooled students.