MIAMI – Coaches and student-athletes in South Florida felt a slight sense of relief on Thursday evening when the Florida High School Athletic Association’s board of directors voted 11 to 3 to allow school athletics to begin on Aug. 24 ― and not on Monday as previously planned.
The dissenting votes were from Bobby Johns, the athletic director at Wewahitchka High School in Gulf County, Richard Finlayson, the principal at Aucilla Christian Academy in Jefferson County, and Randy McDaniel, of the Village Charter Schools.
The FHSAA vote set Aug. 24 as a target date that will be reassessed after FHSAA staff submits a proposal before Aug. 17. The FHSAA is preparing to release dates for each sport. For now, the FHSAA is not allowing practices or tryouts for fall sports. Conditioning is allowed to continue if the district allows it.
“My head is a little spinning right now because I’m kind of worried about my kids,” said Roland Smith Jr., Miami Central Senior High School’s head football coach in West Little River.
Smith said the anguish about how the FHSAA’s decision could affect his students’ future often comes with tears. Coaches like Smith say they are concerned about the students who are no longer staying away from the grasp of street gangs that offer opportunities for fast dirty money. Smith knows public school sports programs save lives. One saved his.
“I can recall when I was in high school playing football at Miami Northwestern going home to those projects and my way out was trying to get an athletic scholarship and I earned that,” Smith said.
While the coronavirus pandemic turns South Florida into a hot zone, Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho had said he was “deeply disturbed” about the decision to start sports on Monday. He said he considered the FHSAA’s decision to be highly unfair because it could result in “significant inequities” for student-athletes. The district has threatened to step away from the FHSAA all together.
Carvalho said Miami-Dade schools won’t physically reopen until Miami-Dade’s testing positivity rate is less than 10%.
Broward County has decided to begin the school year Aug. 19 with distance learning.
If school districts don’t allow teams to get onto the field until later than Aug. 24, the teams will play fewer games. Students also fear they will be at a disadvantage and they may not even get to see the field or courts enough to play in state playoff tournaments.
“It is kind of frustrating because some of my teammates, some of my guys always work hard until their senior year so just knowing this pandemic is holding them back is kind of like saddening,” said Amari Daniels, a Miami Central running back.
Daniels has been offered scholarships to several D-1 schools. He knows he is among the minority of students who have that opportunity, so he is worried about the future of his teammates. He said he fears Jeron Scharoun Jr. may not get a chance to play this year and college recruiters won’t get to see how talented he is.
“It’s a huge deal. Last year I was just getting my feet wet,” said Scharoun, an offensive lineman. “This senior year, I was planning on getting a lot of schools and trying to go to college.”
Scharoun is not alone. Many Miami Central students’ focus on athletics as their ticket to become the first ones in their family to earn a college education.
“Everybody needs offers. Everybody needs somewhere to go. Everybody needs a school to go to,” said Laurence Seymore, an offensive lineman. “It’s important to all of us.”
Demetrius Jackson, the head coach at American Senior High School in Hialeah said his team has one senior who has a scholarship offer and there are 13 others who don’t. Jackson said he is not ready to rush them to the field.
Before Thursday night’s vote, Jackson blamed the FHSAA’s lack of leadership for jeopardizing students’ opportunities to receive life-changing scholarships. He said the FHSAA was pushing coaches and school administrators to have to make impossible decisions.
“What if one of my players takes it back to their mothers or fathers who have underlying health conditions and they pass away?” Jackson said. “What if one my players or coaches pass away?”