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Sept. 4 set as opener but most won’t play that soon

By Buddy Collings (Orlando Sentinel)

After months of deliberation and debate wrapped around the coronavirus pandemic the FHSAA approved Friday, Sept. 4, as opening day for Florida high school football games last week.
But only a handful of Orlando area teams, all from private schools, plan to play that soon. Central Florida’s public school districts will not start football seasons until the week of Friday, Sept. 18, when Seminole County and Volusia County teams are permitted to open. Osceola and Lake County football will kick off the following week.

Multiple sources have told the Sentinel the Orange County Public Schools district is also strongly considering allowing football games on Sept. 17-18. But that decision may not be made official before the OCPS school board meets again Tuesday.

Sept. 4 games in the revised 2020 schedule include Orangewood Christian at Foundation Academy and Faith Christian at Mount Dora Christian. Those are matchups of schools in the newly-formed Pac-8 coalition. “The kids are really looking forward to playing,” Orangewood coach Bill Gierke said Thursday. “Two weeks ago, they thought we weren’t going to be able to play. They thought the season was going to be called off.” Gierke, the area’s all-time wins leader with a 302-122-1 career record during 37 seasons, said he has never seen anything like the impact COVID-19 has had. “At this point, I’m just glad the kids are getting an opportunity to play,” he said. “If they get to play eight games, I think that would be awesome. You can’t predict what’s going to happen. None of us can.”

The FHSAA approved Monday as the start date for official practices. That means teams that play Sept. 4 will have a maximum of 10 practice days if they use a Saturday. No live contact is allowed until Day 6 of practice. “It’s a quick turnaround. But from a physical standpoint, a strength standpoint, I think we’ll be OK,” said first-year Mount Dora Christian coach Mike Kintz.

Seminole Athletic Conference openers include the Lake Brantley at Lake Mary rivalry game on Thursday, Sept. 17. Reigning conference champ Seminole is tentatively set to also open that night at home against ancient rival DeLand. The Seminole County Public Schools District requested no athletic competition be held on Friday, Sept. 18, in observance of the Rosh Hashana Jewish holiday.

If Orange County mimics the SCPS football start date, its first week slate will include a short road trip for 2019 Class 5A state runner-up Jones High to play at Bishop Moore, Orlando’s Catholic high school, in a clash of familiar district rivals. That game is tentatively set for Thursday, Sept. 17, or Friday, Sept. 18, pending the OCPS decision.
Other openers that week for Metro Conference schools, if approved, could include Dr. Phillips at Boone, Hagerty at Timber Creek, Winter Park at Orlando University, East River at Wekiva, Lake Nona at Cypress Creek and Olympia at Windermere.

Edgewater, last season’s 7A state runner-up, was scheduled to travel to play Louisiana power John Curtis Christian on the weekend of Sept. 18 at Independence Stadium in Shreveport, La. But Louisiana is not starting its season until Oct. 8 or later.

A number of football coaches told the Sentinel on Thursday they are still working to lock down an opening game. DeLand coach Steve Allen said his team’s cross-country rivalry game against Daytona Beach Mainland, which was originally set as an August season opener at home, was rescheduled to Oct. 16. Mount Dora, Tavares and Eustis dropped games against Bishop Moore since district games are not mandatory this year. That leaves Leesburg as the only Lake County team the Hornets will play. Bishop Moore has six of its eight available game dates filled. The Jones schedule is also likely to be impacted if the same Lake County schools have dropped the Tigers.

The revised FHSAA playoff system, forced by the coronavirus outbreak, will for the first time allow every team that opts in to participate in the football state playoffs, which are scheduled to be contested during a span of six weeks, from Nov. 13 through state finals on Dec. 10-12 and 17-19. Umatilla coach Charlie Cerney said his team, like Tohopekaliga, is opting out of the state series. The Bulldogs have eight games lined up and may add a ninth.

Most of the public school districts that are permitting Sept. 4 football games are in smaller counties, mostly in North Florida, where coronavirus numbers have been relatively low. But the list also includes several Southwest Florida counties, including Sarasota and Charlotte.

Season openers for some Orlando area teams:

Friday, Sept. 4:                         

Orangewood Christian at Foundation Academy
Faith Christian at Mount Dora Christian
Clearwater American Collegiate at West Oaks
Central Florida Christian at Zephyrhills Christian
Seven Rivers Christian at Deltona Trinity Christian

Friday, Sept. 11
First Academy-Leesburg at Deltona Trinity Christian
Orlando Christian Prep at Orangewood Christian
Faith Christian at the Master’s Academy

Thursday, Sept. 17
Lake Brantley at Lake Mary
DeLand at Seminole (Thursday or Friday)

Friday, Sept. 18
Deltona at Daytona Beach Seabreeze
Winter Springs at Orange City University
Lake Howell at Lakeland Tenoroc

Friday, Sept. 25
Kissimmee Osceola at Liberty
Celebration at St. Cloud
Poinciana at Lakeland Tenoroc
Leesburg at South Lake
East Ridge at Tavares
Umatilla at Keystone Heights
Mount Dora at Hawthorne

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Orange County sets high school sports start dates, including football openers

The Orange County Public Schools district announced Monday night that it will allow its high school fall sports teams to start preseason practice Monday and play season openers two weeks later, beginning Sept. 14.

The start of a football season delayed by the coronarivus pandemic will be either Thursday or Friday night, Sept. 17-18, for Metro Conference teams. School is in that Friday, but most OPCS squads will avoid Sept. 18 home games in observance of the Jewish Rosh Hashanah holiday, which begins at sunset.

The OCPS decision, made after weeks of consternation and conversation among school administrators, coaches and families, puts the district in line with the football season opening dates for Seminole and Volusia County public schools. It allows up to eight regular season games (down from 10) prior to the scheduled Nov. 13 start of the Florida High School Athletic Association state playoffs.

Other fall sports teams will also have shortened regular seasons. The plan leaves just four regular season weeks for girls volleyball and golf before FHSAA postseason play begins. Swimming and diving teams have five weeks to compete before district meets. Bowling and cross country have six regular season weeks.

The plan also spells out spectator limits for competitions hosted by OCPS schools. There will be no charge for admission, but teams will be limited to two tickets per athlete.

Harold Border, chief of high schools for OCPS, said the district’s spectator policy is based on a 25% capacity benchmark. That he said has become “a sweet spot” for COVID-era attendance for leagues across the country. “We want to keep contained the number of people in the stands for this start,” Border said. “We want to start with success and safety.”

The limits mean cheerleaders, bands, color guards and other student groups will not be allowed to perform. Several school board members argued for sideline cheer and halftime shows to somehow be included.

“When we successfully launch the season there may opportunities to revisit this,” Border said.

The OCPS plan includes specific coronavirus considerations, such as a limit on bowling participants, and widening courses for cross country meets.

Football teams will not go to locker rooms for halftime. Instead they will move to opposite end zones or other open ground for the break. Sideline boxes for teams will be extended to the 20-yard line which allows 60 yards instead of 40 for social distancing.

OCPS was the last Orlando area school district to announce sports starts.

Orange County school superintendent Barbara Jenkins said the district will continue to watch conditions closely and will be ready to react to problems. She warned that if COVID-19 infects a football program, it could quickly spread across a high school. “I want to be clear, there are no guarantees,” Jenkins said. “I have to tell you, I’m worried. I will tell you in advance, because we feel responsible for these young athletes, we will continue to monitor.”

Opening week for Metro teams, if all goes well, will include a short road trip for 2019 Class 5A state runner-up Jones High to play at Bishop Moore, Orlando’s Catholic high school, in a clash of familiar Orlando rivals. That game is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 18, the first day area Catholic schools can play.

Other likely OCPS openers include these games that were tentatively set for Thursday, Sept. 17, ahead of Monday’s board meeting:

— Dr. Phillips at Boone

— Hagerty at Timber Creek

— Oviedo at Colonial

— West Orange at Evans

— Winter Park at Orlando University

— East River at Wekiva

— Lake Nona at Cypress Creek

— Olympia at Windermere

Openers for Freedom and Oak Ridge were up in the air. Playing each other is a possibility.

Florida high school football teams were originally scheduled to play preseason Kickoff Classic games last week and season openers this week had COVID-19 not changed everything.

The virus forced the Florida High School Athletic Association to scratch Classics and postpone the first allowed day for fall sports practices one month to Monday, Aug. 31. The first play date for regular seasons was shifted three weeks back, to Friday, Sept. 4.

None of Central Florida’s public school districts are allowing teams to practice next week and play in the FHSAA’s new Week 1. But some of the area’s private schools will do so.

News from Orange County had been long awaited not only by its fall coaches, but also by athletic departments from surrounding districts. “I’m waiting on what Orange County is going to do before I adjust my schedule,” Kissimmee Osceola football coach Doug Nichols said last this week.The Kowboys originally had games scheduled against Metro members Cypress Creek, Freedom and Lake Nona.

The FHSAA has done away with districts in its revamped 2020 state series format, but it has also stipulated to member schools that any contests that were contracted to be played on or after Sept. 4 should be played unless both schools mutually agree to cancel a game. How well that mandate holds up in a year where coronavirus conditions and scheduling plans vary across the state remains to be seen.

The OCPS plan for student participation requires parents of athletes to sign a set of documents that includes a new waiver form titled “Assumption of the risk and liability relating to coronavirus/COVID-19.” That portion states that by signing parents “voluntarily assume all risks that I and/or my child(ren) may be exposed to or infected by COVID-19 as a result of participation.”

The letter asks parents to perform daily temperature checks and look for COVID-19 symptoms such as coughing or difficulty breathing; and to keep their students home for 72 hours if they see any signs of infection. It asks parents to report if students in their family have been in contact with anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 during the past 14 days or is awaiting tests results. Quarantines of at least 14 days are required in those instances.

This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Buddy Collings can be reached by email at bcollings@orlandosentinel.com.

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43 minutes ago, DarterBlue2 said:

I was hoping to attend the Jones/Bishop Moore game. But based on the fan limits to two admissions per player, it seems I cannot make it. 

Darter, perhaps Florida HS Football needs someone to cover the game for them . . . write up a short article, snap a few pictures, etc.  You know, a good, old-fashioned freelance writer.   Win-win.  FHSF gets much-needed content and you get a front-row seat to watch the game from down on the field.   I'm guessing that the credentials to get down on the field to watch the game for free would be payment enough. 

Just a thought. 

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1 hour ago, DarterBlue2 said:

I was hoping to attend the Jones/Bishop Moore game. But based on the fan limits to two admissions per player, it seems I cannot make it. 

I don't know how accurate the schedule in the Orlando Sentinel article is. With BM in their new Citrus League, they may not be able to schedule traditional rivals, Jones and Edgewater. Also, if you look at "original" schedules, WP was to play Edgewater w/o September 17-18. Until each school announces their schedule, I'd be prepared for changes. I heard on Sunday that WP would allow only two tickets per player for their games. I'm sure there will be plenty of volunteers for gate, down marker, first down sticks, and ushers to enforce social distancing and masks, but I think most of those would be students. May have to rely on watching videos of the games.

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8 hours ago, Perspective said:

Darter, perhaps Florida HS Football needs someone to cover the game for them . . . write up a short article, snap a few pictures, etc.  You know, a good, old-fashioned freelance writer.   Win-win.  FHSF gets much-needed content and you get a front-row seat to watch the game from down on the field.   I'm guessing that the credentials to get down on the field to watch the game for free would be payment enough. 

Just a thought. 

I think it's worth asking Josh, which I will. Thanks for the suggestion. 

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