JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Play ball, but do it safely.
That’s the game plan from Gov. Ron DeSantis and Richard Corcoran, Florida’s education commissioner, who both held a panel Thursday afternoon at the University of North Florida talking about the return of fall sports. The group included former pro athletes Charlie Ward and Lito Sheppard.
However, high school sports still do not have a firm start date or an idea of how players and coaches will protect themselves from COVID-19.
Across the state, Florida’s student-athletes are practicing but they are uncertain about their future.
“Hiding in the corner and pretending like if we just hide long enough it will go away -- that’s not viable,” DeSantis said.
The governor made it clear that he is in favor of students going back to school and playing sports if they choose, and if it’s done carefully.
“Understand that there’s a risk out there,” DeSantis said in response to News4Jax’s questions about a possible outbreak. “If someone develops symptoms, you take them out, you isolate them. But what I would not do is if one person gets ill and they’re isolated and they test, to then shut down everything else.”
DeSantis said he wanted to see college rivals Florida and Florida State face off this year, despite the NCAA announcing that football teams would only compete in their conferences. The governor said his team would work to find a way for the tradition to carry on.
The state sports board has not released how it plans to keep players and coaches safe and prevent the virus from spreading to their family members. But the education commissioner said children need something productive to do and that they might as well do it with proven guidance.
“If they’re going to engage in that behavior, please let’s have them have that engagement under the tutelage and mentoring of great men and great women who are out there coaching these kids,” Corcoran noted.
Thursday morning, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, sent a letter to the governor with his ideas for a safe return to sports.
He proposes: Mandatory plastic shields covering the helmets of football players, mouth guards, distanced huddles for a max 30 seconds, a designated coach or staffer to enforce mask and distance guidelines and penalties for players or teams not complying with the rules
As a whole, he suggests a plan where schools must notify their opponents if a player is positive or suspected of being sick. Athletes with active cases must sit out. However, he adds that while testing would be ideal, it is not currently cost effective.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said he stands with the governor and wants sports to resume.
“It’s incumbent upon us adults that are making these decisions to find a way to give parents and kids this choice,” Curry added.
At high school media day, coaches and players had mixed reactions to getting back to competition. Most want to play, however some said they think it’d be safer to play fall sports in the spring. The Florida High Schools Sports Association will meet to discuss a firmer plan on Aug. 14.