It is, of course, hard to find silver linings these days in the world of Covid-19, when there is so much bad news, everywhere.
But the athletics directors of Flagler Palm Coast High School and Matanzas High School both have been able to point to at least one positive development since the news came down on July 22 that all fall sports have been postponed indefinitely: Nearly all the parents they’re hearing from are supportive, and not complaining.
“Honestly I don’t think I’ve had one conversation with a parent who was upset and demanding the kids start their seasons,” said Matanzas athletics director Zach Rigney. “They’ve called up to ask questions about “are we going to have a season?” and things of an informational nature, but everyone has generally been understanding and realizing that we just don’t have a lot of answers right now.”
Longtime FPC athletics director Steve DeAugustino has had much the same experience.
“I think everyone is just looking for some kind of guidance or prediction about what’s going to be, and the parents are obviously concerned about the health and well-being of their kids,” DeAugustino said. “If the season keeps getting postponed and postponed, I expect some parents will be upset. But up until now everyone’s been very supportive as we all try to get through this.”
Since Flagler Schools risk manager David Bossardet announced that the fall sports season has been postponed indefinitely, there have been quite a few ripple effects for local athletes.
Football players, swimmers, runners, golfers and other student-athletes who normally would be gearing up for a season they’ve worked years for are now faced with an uncertain future. According to rules set by state and local health authorities, workouts are restricted to small “pods” of between 6-10 athletes at a time, and basic rules like students being required to bring their own water and wearing masks when near others are now the norm and, according to the athletic directors, being followed by coaches and athletes.
“I’ve seen a lot of maturity and understanding from our kids, really understanding the protocols and asking questions when they’re unsure of something,” Rigney said. “I haven’t had to talk to any of the coaches about following the new rules, they’ve all been very diligent about it.”
Andy Dance, a Flagler County school board member, said he’s seen “great communication” between Bossardet, the Florida High School Athletic Association and local health officials, but admitted that no one’s certain when a season would be able to commence (the school board approved a two-week delay to the school year on July 28, with Aug. 24 the new start date).
“There’s no real answers but certainly parents are concerned that their child’s sports season is in peril,” Dance said. “We’ve been looking at what the surrounding counties and other areas of the state are doing, and trying to be prudent.”
There has been a lot of conflicting guidance from the FHSAA on fall sports, specifically football. The FHSAA surprisingly voted on July 20 to keep the fall sports calendar on track as originally scheduled, but then responded to a severe backlash from many corners of the state and a few days later, pushed the start date back to Aug. 24.
Then, despite Covid-19 numbers in Florida, the FHSAA’s football coaches advisory committee voted 9-0 to put forward a plan that would kick off the 2020 season in September and also accommodate teams that can’t take the field until October.
The optimistic proposal, based on the new Aug. 24 practice start date approved by the Florida High School Athletic Association, calls for a nine-week regular season starting Friday, Sept. 11, and state playoff brackets that would include every team that signs up to participate.
Putting aside the Covid-19 concerns for a moment, obviously from a strictly sports standpoint the student-athletes most affected in Flagler County by a sports postponement, or a possible cancellation of the fall season, are seniors. Twelfth grade is when so many scholastic athletes perform well enough to earn college scholarships, and not being able to show their stuff in the pool, on the gridiron, on the track or anywhere else could mean a significant reduction in their chance to earn that scholarship.
Dr. Scott Jones, a sports business and marketing expert who’s also an associate professor at Stetson, said that college coaches would strictly be limited in most cases to watching video of an athlete’s junior year.
“In a lot of cases you see athletes make a big jump (between junior and senior years), so that junior year tape becomes so much more important in an evaluation process,” Jones said. “And for parents and student-athletes, you just have to hope that there’s enough there that will still make the school consider you for a scholarship.”
Jones also said that if sports seasons get postponed because of Covid-19, the importance of offseason camps, some which may be held in lieu of a season, will become vital for athletes hoping to be seen.
“These 7-on-7 football camps and things like that end up becoming that much more important,” Jones said. “And not just in football, in all sports, those private camps might be the chance for athletes to be seen.”
If the fall sports season were to be cancelled, a small ripple in the giant set of ramifications that would be entailed, and certainly a much less serious concern at this point, would be a loss of advertising revenue from football games.
Jones said that many high school programs count on the revenue that football signage at the stadium, and in game programs, to help supplement their athletic budget.
When asked about it, Matanzas’ Rigney said in a normal year, that soliciting and fund-raising for advertising dollars would’ve started in June and be wrapped up by now, but that he’s in no position or mood to worry about that now.
“Everything is done on a year-to-year renewal basis, but I don’t want to approach local businesses and ask for money right now, certainly,” Rigney said. “Not having that revenue affects the bottom line a little, but of course there are bigger concerns now.”
With the Covid-19 situation and numbers still looking grim, DeAugustino, Dance and Rigney said all options for fall sports seasons are on the table, with even football season being moved to spring a possibility.
“I don’t know about spring football, that would bring a whole different set of circumstances and issues,” DeAugustino said. “I haven’t heard that being discussed seriously, as of now. But that’s as of now. Anything could change.”
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