Winter Haven at Victory Christian football 1

While area high school football teams push through the regular season amid the pandemic, the Florida High School Athletic Association recently unveiled regional assignments on which the state playoffs will be based.

News came out of last week’s FHSAA Board of Directors meeting that football regions had been modified for the 2020 state series. Member schools were given the choice of opting in or out of the state playoffs by Sept. 18, based in part on COVID-19 conditions at the time or restrictions put in place by local districts and authorities.

The FHSAA Board of Directors voted in August to establish a new set of parameters for football with regional seeds based on a blind draw (reportedly set to be posted on Wednesday, Oct. 7), no district champions, no playoff rankings and home teams determined by a coin flip. Minimum contest requirements were also waived and all teams remaining in the state series earned a postseason berth.

Reconfiguring the regions helped create more balance with the numbers – particularly in the larger classifications where Palm Beach County, Broward County and the majority of Miami-Dade County opted out – and the changes are listed on the FHSAA’s new website.

Here is the playoff breakdown regarding teams in the Winter Haven Sun coverage area:

Opted In: Bartow (Class 7A-Region 3), Winter Haven (Class 7A-Region 3), Auburndale (Class 6A-Region 3), Lake Wales (Class 5A-Region 3), Frostproof (Class 3A-Region 3) and Fort Meade (Class 1A-Region 4).

Opted Out: Haines City, Lake Region and Discovery High.

Three other schools – Sunshine State Athletic Conference members All Saints’ Academy (8-man) and Oasis Christian Academy (8-man) as well as Akelynn’s Angels Christian Academy – are also not part of the FHSAA state football series this fall.

Bartow and Winter Haven are in a 16-team region, which means eight opening-round games will be held Nov. 13, with winners advancing to the 7A-3 quarterfinals the following week.

The Yellow Jackets are off to an impressive 3-0 start with a 151-13 scoring differential, while Winter Haven improved to 2-1 with last Friday’s 51-3 home win over Poinciana on the strength of a 28-point first quarter.

Auburndale (1-2) is part of a 19-team region where three play-in games will be held Nov. 6. As for Lake Wales, which moved to 2-0 with a 52-21 win over Harmony last Friday, the Highlanders are among 16 teams in a 5A-3 bracket that includes Jones and Bishop Moore.

Frostproof (2-0) and Fort Meade (1-3) are in regions with more than eight teams and will require play-in games during Week 11. The Bulldogs are in 3A-3 with only one other nearby school (Lakeland Christian) and play-in games matching the Nos. 8-9 seeds and the No. 7 and No. 10 seeds; Fort Meade is one of nine teams in 1A-4 where the Nos. 8-9 seeds will square off for a regional quarterfinal spot.