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Going against medical advice in rush to return to football practice worries coaches

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – School districts in Florida were given the green light to start sports practices on schedule in the fall, despite words of warning from doctors.

That has caused concern for some coaches, players and parents and it’s nowhere near slowing down.

“Until these numbers come down, I’m not gonna feel comfortable,” said Columbia High School football coach Brian Allen.

The Florida High School Athletic Association voted Monday night during a five-hour emergency board meeting that fall sports can begin practicing as scheduled, even as coronavirus cases spike in Florida.

Practices could start as early as July 27 and preseason classics could begin the week of Aug. 10. Individual school districts will make the final calls on when practices begin, but locally, many districts are looking at that start date and planning to begin.

Here’s a list of where all 16 counties in the News4Jax coverage are stand on their practice plans for fall sports.

A lot of people are not happy.

Some coaches are worried about an outbreak and they say this isn’t an even playing field. Schools in hot zones, like Jacksonville, Tampa and Miami, are at a disadvantage over rural campuses.

The 10-5 vote in favor of starting season came Monday night despite strong calls from a panel of doctors to delay high school sports. Mayo Clinic Jacksonville Dr. Jennifer Maynard said it was too soon.

“Our student athletes are students first and foremost. And they will need to be able to return safely to your classroom setting before engaging in the competitive sports arena,” Maynard said.

The state board seemingly ignoring health officials’ warnings struck a nerve with Columbia High School’s head coach Allen.

“You may be good right now, but as soon as you start to do activities, it could change it from being good to here, you’re not going to be,” he said. “So is it worth it to risk? Even if you’re fine right now. If you’re not like South Florida or Hillsborough County or Broward and Duval. But OK, when you start doing the things that allow that virus to spread in your area then you are like those other places.”

Many coaches say they’re not comfortable evaluating players. Allen thinks temperature checks and questionnaires are not enough. And like college and pro sports, testing must be done. For now, he’s keeping his team off the field.

“I’ve erred on the side of caution with this thing,” Allen said. “When I know right down the road, they’re wide-open going to the north, south, east and west of me. I have programs have been wide open with their summer workouts.”

Testing for COVID-19, crowd size at games and protocol on what happens when an athlete tests positive will all be decisions made at the district level.


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