Athletic directors from of the Charlotte County high schools met on Wednesday morning to determine the best timeline to bring fall sports back.
After the Florida High School Athletic Association voted in favor of allowing fall sports to begin on July 27 earlier this week, several school districts across the state have since been forced to determine if that date is suitable for them.
For Charlotte County, the July 27 start became problematic once the school board pushed back the start of the school year from Aug. 10 to Aug. 31.
Now, the fall sports season will begin on Aug. 17, with competition slated to begin the first week of school. It is still undetermined if fans will be allowed, however.
“We kind of kept the balance of what was the plan before and what’s the plan now,” Lemon Bay athletic director Ryan LaVallee said in explaining why Aug. 17 was chosen. “We have seven games right now (for football) if all the counties around us stay in the FHSAA. But if we can get seven games this year, I think we’ll be lucky.”
A day before Charlotte County made its decision, Sarasota County also decided to push its fall sports season back — planning to reconvene on Aug. 4 when it will vote for or against an Aug. 10 start.
Though DeSoto County students are scheduled to return to school on Aug. 10, Bulldogs athletic director Leigha Murphy said it’s likely that she will also have to push back the start of the fall sports season to align schedules with nearby counties such as Charlotte, Lee and Hardee.
The different plans of these three counties is only a glimpse at what’s going on across Florida as some counties, such as Pasco, are pushing fall sports back to a September start at the earliest.
This has created havoc for scheduling and maintaining competitive balance, as most teams will be forced to miss games due to a late start or an unavailable opponent. Whether those games can be rescheduled remains to be seen.
“It’s definitely a bummer, for sure,” Port Charlotte volleyball coach Christine Burkhart said of pushing the start date back to Aug. 17. “Especially for us, wanting to go back to the final four, the way in which we made our schedule was very calculated to prepare us for that.
“My problem is that I have teams scheduled from Tampa all the way down to Naples. So we’re kind of at the mercy of what each school district chooses to do, and that’s tough.”
Burkhart also voiced concern for some tournaments she has scheduled against high-caliber teams being canceled — losing out on several matches and weakening her team’s strength of schedule.
With several counties across the state picking varying start dates, both Charlotte and Sarasota county schools are exploring the option of rescheduling games with local teams.
“That’s one of the reasons it’s so hard to pick a date (to return),” LaVallee said. “Everyone is like, ‘What are you doing?’ I don’t know who I can schedule because I don’t know who is going to do their own thing or when they will start.
“A lot of schools wanted to start on the 10th, and we talked about it, but we just thought the 17th gave us a little more time. And you never know in today’s day and age we could push that back again.”
Port Charlotte athletic director Bob Bruglio said Charlotte County athletic directors would discuss the idea of forming their own coalition with nearby schools such as those in Lee and Collier counties, but a final decision was not reached on Wednesday.
Though that option is still on the table for the Pirates and the Tarpons, LaVallee said the Mantas will “most likely” compete in the FHSAA state series this season.
But regardless of who plays who or when that happens, it appears that competitive sports are on their way back in some form or fashion sometime soon.
“We didn’t anticipate starting on the 27th of July based on some things that were coming down the pipe,” Pirates football coach Jordan Ingman said. “Now that we have an actual calendar date, we’re pretty excited about it.
“How the schedule looks is gonna be pretty wild and I don’t know how it’s gonna look after August 17. But I am excited to get started.”