Prep sports in our area took the first step toward getting back on schedule when Sarasota County Schools announced a plan for return to athletics on Wednesday afternoon.
Meanwhile, schools in Charlotte and DeSoto Counties continue to stand still.
Sarasota County allowed teams to practice as soon as Friday and that can continue through the weekend with an exemption granted by the Florida High School Athletic Association to practice on Sunday.
Following the required minimum of four days of practice, games could begin as early as Tuesday.
“The biggest thing is returning to some kind of normalcy for our student athletes,” Sarasota County athletics director James Slaton said. “At the same time, though, we know we have a lot of obstacles and we still have a lot of people who are suffering.
“We’re having to obviously modify a few things for North Port because of their facilities, but everybody is going to be able to return to play.”
Returning to practice and games can only be done if student athletes can access their facilities, and that’s also assuming the facilities aren’t damaged and are safe to use.
At North Port High, athletic director Tony Miller said he isn’t sure when that will happen. While most Sarasota County schools are scheduled to reopen Monday morning, North Port is scheduled for an Oct. 17 opening due to flooding issues in the surrounding area.
“I probably won’t have an answer until our school is inspected completely and we’re cleared to go back to school,” Miller said of returning to athletics. “Hopefully we know something in the next couple of days and we can get in on Monday.”
The pause in play comes at a tough time for the Bobcats, who were scheduled to host three key cross country meets — Tri-County, Districts and Regionals — along with three home football games in the coming weeks.
“Those six events fund my athletic department for the rest of the year,” Miller said.
At Venice High, the Indians were hard at work Wednesday morning with hope of resuming their seasons soon.
The football team, coaches and administrators spent Wednesday morning cleaning up Powell-Davis Stadium armed with gloves and trash bags.
“There’s going to be a lot of expenses that weren’t accounted for this year just because of the hurricane,” Venice coach John Peacock said. “But the main thing is that all of our kids are safe and we’re going to be able to resume our season.”
The Indians were scheduled to host Sarasota this season, but will now play at the Sailors next Friday at 7:30 p.m. after their bleachers were ruled unsafe for use this week.
The Venice volleyball team will waste no time resuming its season. The Lady Indians are scheduled to host Cardinal Mooney on Tuesday at 7 p.m. — as originally planned.
In Charlotte County, everything remains on pause with virtually no discussion of a timetable for a return. According to several school officials, the district remains in the very earliest stages of damage assessment and recovery.
Power returned to Port Charlotte early on following the Sept. 28 storm, but damage to the school appears to be widespread, especially when it comes to the athletic facilities. The football and baseball fields sustained heavy damage and the weightroom was destroyed when its roof was torn open.
Lemon Bay High sustained significant damage to its baseball and football fields, as well, while the school itself suffered flooding from wind-driven rain.
With the county at large still dealing with recovery of essential necessities, a return to school date remains secondary.
Members of several Port Charlotte, Lemon Bay and Charlotte athletic teams could be spotted working in and around their communities, aiding homeowners with cleanup and debris removal, wasting no time while waiting on word of a return to school.
In DeSoto County, Bulldogs athletic director Sam Holland said practice in all sports will begin Monday with the football team playing host to Booker as regularly scheduled on Oct. 14.
“Athletically, we’re back Monday in all sports,” Holland said.
The Bulldogs’ athletic teams will have to work around their school’s damage. According to Holland, the campus sustained signficant water damage that could take anywhere from two to six weeks to repair.
In the meantime, the district is drawing up a tentative plan that could include operating on a split schedule at DeSoto Middle School, where high school students attend for one half of the day while the middle schoolers attend the other.
The volleyball team will resume practice Monday at a nearby elementary school.
“We’re still working out all the logistics,” Holland said.