While some collegiate leagues have switched to conference-only schedules and others have canceled their fall seasons, high school sports remains a different story.
The Florida High School Athletic Association has yet to make any changes to the prep sports calendar, but there may be more concrete answers after Monday’s FHSAA Board of Directors meeting.
In the meantime, the Sun asked several local coaches about the best ways to bring back their sports. Here are some of the questions they are facing:
Which sport presents the most problems?
Football will undoubtedly have the most barriers to safe play. A contact sport by nature, staying six feet apart — or anywhere close to it — is nearly impossible.
Players huddle, meet at the line of scrimmage and block and tackle each other, all while fighting over the same ball.
While Sarasota County teams have been limited, several other area teams, such as the Port Charlotte Pirates, have been allowed to workout both indoors and outdoors for the past month.
“It’s been a learning experience trying to run safe practices and still coach at the same time,” Pirates coach Jordan Ingman said. “We’ve gotten smarter each week on how to avoid any missteps in following the guidelines.
“I think it’s realistic for us to have a season. If you look at the surrounding states, Georgia announced they’re going on time. Alabama is going. Missouri is going. That gives me hope we can do the same thing.”
The Pirates have been using temperature checks, wellness checks and monitored their players throughout the summer. Players not on the field are required to take a knee to avoid mingling. Players who left the area were told to quarantine and have a coronavirus test before returning.
Which sport(s) could have the easiest return?
Unlike football, athletes in sports like golf and cross country typically spend very little time in close proximity, and protocols can be added to further reduce risk.
In cross country, runners form a big group at the starting line — anywhere from 100-200 people — but when the race starts, runners tend to space out.
North Port cross country coach Phu Nguyen said meets could be condensed and teams could lighten their schedules. However Nguyen believes that having runners compete from different locations or at different times of the day won’t work due to variables such as weather and the running surface.
“My meet last year had 78 teams, which was the biggest on-campus cross country meet in the state,” Nguyen said. “This year I already have 65 schools signed up, but that’s most likely not gonna happen.
“If there’s only six or eight schools at a meet you can spread kids out easily.”
The sport with the best chance to return is one that never left — golf. Most area golf courses have stayed open throughout the summer with some slight alterations — pins stay in the hole, no rakes in the bunkers and no water coolers.
This has been an encouraging sign for local golf coaches such as Jason Jones of Lemon Bay.
“We’re going to do digital scorecards so we don’t have to exchange them,” Jones said. “We aren’t going to shake hands. We’re not going to touch the flagstick.
“There’s no good reason they should have to be close to each other.”
Are we getting closer to a return?
Many fall sports teams have an idea of what might work and what might not work through their summer practices.
While it’s too much to ask for players to wear masks while competing, Ingman said it’s not completely out of the question.
“Oakley is actually developing masks for the NFL believe it or not,” Ingman said. “I would think it would be too hard to play football with a mask but evidently there’s technology out there that allows NFL players to wear them.”
Teams have been administering temperature and wellness checks and have done their best to enforce social distancing.
This week the Venice High volleyball team competed in an AAU tournament in Orlando, becoming one of the first area teams back to competition.
The Lady Indians had their temperatures checked and wore masks at all times except while playing or practicing, and encountered no problems coach Brian Wheatley said.
“We didn’t switch sides of the court and we didn’t shake hands,” he said of the AAU tournament. “Coaches wore masks, the refs had masks, all of the scorekeepers had masks and players on the bench did, too. Everyone was issued temperature checks and fans were limited and spaced apart. After each game they cleaned the ball. They had different entrances and exits.
“I felt very safe there.”
Many area teams hope to join Indians volleyball soon and the return to competition. But when that will be, or exactly what that will look like, remains up in the air.