The Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) decided in a Zoom meeting on Monday, July 20 that the start date of fall sports practices would not change and would begin Monday, July 27 but that quickly changed.

Thursday night the FHSAA voted to decide, after meeting with the Sports Medicine Athletic Committee (SMAC), that the fall season would be delayed until August 24 at the earliest.

SMAC is an FHSAA committee made up of doctors, that looked over the recommendations. No matter how the FHSAA voted, it would not make everyone happy.

Highlands County schools had no intentions of starting on Monday.

“It made no sense for us to start on Monday,” said Sebring Athletic Director Jasone DeWitt. “We have been communicating with other counties and coaches. We all have to be on the same page to have a season. There is no point of us starting now and not having anyone to play against because other counties can’t start. We wanted to wait see what the counties around us decided. We have nothing set in stone and we have the luxury of extending our season if we need to through playoff time. It is all about the safety of the schools and players.”

The School Board of Highlands County is very involved in the decision-making process.

“Dr. (Brenda) Longshore is very involved and is now a Highlands County School Board member,” DeWitt said. “She will have a lot of information to go off of and will decide when it is safe to play for our county. I know no matter what decisions are made not everyone will be pleased. I think us not starting is the best decision at this time. We will continue to monitor what is going on and what is going on in the school itself. If there is an outbreak at any school, I’m sure things will change. There is flexibility so that we will not miss the full fall season like we did during the spring. There is room to adjust and start later.”

Highlands County Schools have not made a decision on whether spectators will be allowed at games or what rules will be in place if they are allowed. During player conditioning workouts, schools have a set of rules they are following.

“We have not come up with a decision on having spectators or fans coming in,” DeWitt explained. “One of the tasks force committees came up with rules for conditioning during the off-season and I think we have done really well as a county. Some of the recommendations from SMAC, we are already doing and we are ahead of the game. They recommended a waiver, which we have, they recommended temperature checks, which we do, and a few other things that we are already doing. I am very happy with what the task force committee recommended to us. Our student athletes got used to it, our coaches got used to it and it is now just the norm. It is good for the kids to have some activity and to have some normalcy to their lives. We are in a good situation right now.”

At Highlands County schools each athlete has their temperature checked upon arrival and that will be the same when they go to school to make sure they aren’t showing symptoms. If a student does have a fever or symptoms they will be sent home and advised to see a doctor. During practices athletes social distance, shared equipment is sanitized between each use and groups are no larger than 10 people and that includes the coaches. The schools are doing everything they can to follow the guidelines to keep students safe.

“There are a lot of counties that have not made it to the phase where they can condition,” said DeWitt. “I’m happy that we are able to do that. Some counties haven’t had any organized conditioning at all so we are fortunate to be able to do that. Our students are getting exercise, they are monitored by their coaches and we are fortunate on that end of it.”

Lake Placid High School is doing everything they can to protect their students and athletes.

“Right now, we are waiting and making sure we are doing everything we can to keep the kids safe,” said Lake Placid Athletic Director Jason Holden. “In education the safety of our students is the first priority. We don’t want to rush into anything before we know what is the right thing to do. We are on track with the county and the surrounding counties, we will not be behind if we start late.”

COVID-19 has turned the world upside down and everyone is adjusting to a new normal.

“Just like everything else with COVID-19, we don’t know how it will affect the sports and we hate to speculate,” said Holden. “We are going to have to modify schedules and it does create stress. I know the athletes are anxious to get going and for a lot of them it is their favorite part of school. This is hard on everyone but everyone I have talked to understands that we have to be patient.”

The Avon Park High School Athletic Director was unavailable for comment.