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Where area counties stand on starting high school sports practices

Fletcher running back Myles Montgomery evades the Creekside defense in the second quarter during Friday's game Montgomery rushed for 190 yards and scored three touchdowns in the Senators' 45-10 win. (Ralph D. Priddy, Contributed photo)
Fletcher running back Myles Montgomery evades the Creekside defense in the second quarter during Friday's game Montgomery rushed for 190 yards and scored three touchdowns in the Senators' 45-10 win. (Ralph D. Priddy, Contributed photo)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – High schools in Florida and Georgia got the green light on starting fall sports practices next week.

Now, it’s up to individual school districts to decide what those actual start dates are. Eight districts in News4Jax’s 16-county Florida and Georgia regions are planning on starting fall sports practices on the first allowable date — July 27. Some of those decisions could change as school start dates shift.

Flagler County postponed all practices until further notice the school district said on Wednesday.

Two more were still in the decision-making process. Only Ware County had not responded.

Columbia County announced its decision on Wednesday afternoon, saying it would push fall practice off until Aug. 17. In a release, it said that all “FHSAA contests scheduled in August are postponed.”

St. Johns voted Tuesday to delay the start of school by three weeks until Aug. 31. It announced its fall sports practice start date would be Aug. 17, with no athletic competitions until after Aug. 31, according to an update from district athletic director Paul Abbatinozzi.

As of Wednesday evening, the area’s largest districts, Clay and Duval were still discussing plans about when to permit athletes to start fall sports practices. Those two districts include 24 high schools.

Coaches or athletic directors for programs in Baker, Bradford, Flagler, Putnam and Union counties each said that they planned to start some version of fall sports practices on July 27, the first allowed date for practices. Those dates could change due to COVID-19 precautions. Alachua changed its start date Wednesday, pushing it back a week.

The coaches are getting ready for the return of high school sports this fall
The coaches are getting ready for the return of high school sports this fall

Brian Allen is the head coach at Columbia high school in Lake City. He said that after hearing some of the medical recommendations presented Monday night to the FHSAA board that he’s considering delaying the start of practice.

“From all the recommendations of science that we’ve been seeing nationwide for us, I thought it was spot on with all the other scientists that I’ve listened to and their perspective on this thing,” Allen said.

Other coaches said that while they are waiting to hear from their county athletic directors, they have concerns about how practices are to be run and how things like locker room use and equipment cleaning can be handled amid the pandemic.

“There’s a lot of things that we don’t have access to right now,” said Mandarin football coach Bobby Ramsay. “Our players can’t go in locker rooms. The equipment that we’ve given out so far has really just been to the older players and they’ve taken it home and our plan the first two weeks is to not use locker rooms.”

Oakleaf football coach Frank Garis says he’s skeptical about whether the comprehensive medical recommendations that were presented by the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee would be implemented statewide without a mandate from the FHSAA.

“I think it’s all going to come down to dollars and cents if the SMAC report is going to be too expensive to be to be implemented,” Garis said. “I don’t know that it’ll be implemented. If it’s something that they can do. I think they’ll do everything they can to comply with it.”

All of the coaches News4Jax spoke with had one thing in common: They want to know what they have to do to be as safe as possible and play as many games as possible. But First Coast athletic director and football coach Marty Lee says he’s not expected the season to play out without some kind of complication.

“I wouldn’t put my paycheck on it,” Lee said. “We’re going to be lucky if we can complete a season. I do not believe there’s going to be a state series. You may have a county championship, possibly maybe a regional championship. But that’s not the main emphasis right now. The main emphasis should not be on that.”

In Flagler County, Flagler Palm Coast athletic director Steve DeAugustino said that his county remained in a Phase 1 portion of the recovery process, but workouts were continuing.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal reported that a Matanzas High player tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday. That player last attended practice on July 9, according to the report. Neighboring Volusia County voted on Tuesday to start school on Aug. 31.

In the News4Jax South Georgia region, Camden, Charlton, Glynn and Pierce counties were on target to start fall practice acclimation periods July 27.

The Florida High School Athletic Association voted 10-5 to allow schools to begin practicing July 27 — the original date on the athletic calendar — despite rising COVID-19 numbers in the state and a strong recommendation from its own medical advisory committee to delay high risk sports like football and volleyball.

The Georgia High School Association voted unanimously to keep the practice start date the same — July 27 — but to push the start of the regular football season back two weeks. GHSA programs will play football scrimmages Aug. 21 and 28 and kick off the regular season on Sept. 4. All regular season start dates in other fall sports remain the same.

California moved its football season to start in late December and early January. On Tuesday, the University Interscholastic League in Texas announced the largest classifications in that state, Class 5A and 6A, are pushing back their starts of their season a month due to COVID-19.

County return to sports plans

Plans are subject to change

Alachua: Aug. 3

Baker: Plan is to allow July 27 start date

Bradford: Plan is to allow July 27 start date

Camden: Plan is to allow July 27 start date

Charlton: Plan is to allow July 27 start date

Clay: Plan still being discussed

Columbia: Plan is to start practice on Aug. 17; all games scheduled in August have been canceled; school start date moved to Aug. 13

Duval: Plans still being discussed

Flagler: Sports are “postponed until further notice”; county is still in Phase 1 of reopening process

Glynn: Plan is to allow July 27 start date

Nassau: Plan is to start practice Aug. 10

Pierce: Plan is to allow July 27 start date

Putnam: Plan is to allow July 27 start date; school board has agreed to delay start date to Aug. 24

St. Johns: Practice pushed back until Aug. 17, no games allowed before week of Aug. 31; school start date moved to Aug. 31

Union: Plan is to allow July 27 start date

Ware: TBA

About the Authors:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.

Cole joined News4Jax full-time in January 2017, but he has been a part of the team since he began filling in as a sports anchor in 2005.