JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – High school sports in Florida are done for the 2019-20 school year and the Florida High School Athletic Association announced on Monday that no additional eligibility will be granted to spring sports athletes affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
When Gov. Ron DeSantis announced on Saturday that all schools in Florida would remain in distance learning through the remainder of the academic year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it slammed the door shut on the possibility that the spring sports season could get a reprieve. The FHSAA released its official statement Monday afternoon bringing the 2019-20 sports season to a close.
“... It is with heavy hearts that the FHSAA has decided to cancel all FHSAA affiliated events, inclusive of the state series and all championship events, for spring sports. The safety of our student-athletes, coaches, officials, and fans is our top priority ...," it said in a release.
"We are deeply saddened for our student-athletes who have seen their seasons and/or high school careers end so abruptly. Our Association knows the impact and role high school athletics play in the lives of so many and will continue to work towards the betterment of high school sports. We know this is a trying time, but the health and safety of all is of utmost importance to this Association.”
That leaves sports like baseball, flag football, lacrosse, softball, tennis and track and field without state championship events. Baseball has crowned a state champion every year since 1922. Spring football, which was scheduled to begin April 27, is also wiped out.
The FHSAA also announced that “no additional eligibility will be granted for spring sport athletes," which goes in line with what the Georgia High School Association also said. Initially, there was hope that athletes from the spring term could get that season back should they repeat a grade, but that isn’t the case now.
While it remained a long shot to open schools and return to sports, area coaches and players had held out a shred of hope that even an abbreviated season in the spring could be completed. The FHSAA said in its last release on March 31 that a season as late as June 30 was a possibility.
But Saturday’s announcement took that out of the FHSAA’s hands.
Should the pandemic run its course and the state feel that it’s safe, schools will reopen in August and sports resume this fall.
The Florida Department of Health recommended on March 30 that schools remain closed through May 1, with a best-case scenario of a May 4 return. The FHSAA had followed the state’s lead, delaying any announcement of canceling spring sports.
The Georgia High School Association had already scrapped spring sports after Gov. Brian Kemp announced schools would be closed through the remainder of the 2019-20 school year. Kemp made the decision on April 1 and the GHSA followed a day later in making it official.
Reaction from area coaches was generally the same: disappointed for the kids--especially the seniors--understanding of the decision, hopeful for the future.
“It’s not something we were hoping for, I still held out hope,” said Oakleaf softball coach Christina Thompson. “I’m heartbroken. I’m heartbroken for our kids.”
Providence baseball coach Mac Mackiewitz thinks there is a silver lining for baseball players, who can use this time to get stronger without the busy schedule of school, socializing, games and practice, but it’s not what he, or any of the coaches, wanted for their players.
“I hurt for the whole team,” Mackiewitz said. “But for the seniors, I couldn’t imagine losing my senior year.”
Some seniors already have college scholarships locked up. Others were not going to go on to play their sport at the college level. But for those in the gray area, it’s a lost opportunity to prove to a college coach that they can compete at the next level. That means they’ll have to get more creative.
“It’s a level playing field. The entire nation is in the same boat, dealing with the same issues,” Ridgeview athletic director and baseball coach John Sgromolo said. “It is disappointing, but there are ways to get creative and to communicate to build those relationships with coaches. You’re going to see kids bridging the gap. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
One idea that has been floated among some coaches is the possibility of each team hosting one home game so each school can have a senior night. Of course, for that to happen, conditions must improve and schools and districts would have to sign off on the concept.