Sports season for FL high school kids will launch during pandemic

Lincoln High School football, Tallahassee, FL. Credit: Leon County School District website.

Fall sports for high school kids in Florida will officially begin on August 24, launching a sports season despite the coronavirus pandemic.

The Florida High School Athletic Association voted Friday 11-5 in favor of the plan, following a lengthy meeting of more than two hours in Gainesville. The meeting also was streamed live.

The FSHAA Board of Directors met in person to decide whether it’s safe for high schools to convene a fall sports schedule that would involve practice starting this month.

As of Friday, the Florida Department of Health reported 563,285 COVID-19 infections, with Florida second only to California in the number of cases in the United States.

The FSHAA’s decision comes as brick-and-mortar schools have already begun opening for the new academic year, and state officials, including Gov. Ron DeSantis, have continued to push for in-person instruction at traditional schools rather than online learning. Families have been able to choose remote instruction.

“Flexibility has always been the model that this country used in order to move forward during a pandemic. We must move forward,” Chalmus Thomas, board member, said in the meeting.

“I agree that safety should always be and will always be our first option…but we can’t sit in a shell, we can’t sit. Athletics have been something that pulls communities together.”

The fall sports season for high schools includes football and a number of other sports, such as cross country and volleyball.

Earlier this week, DeSantis pushed for the college football season in Florida to proceed this fall, arguing that colleges can provide a safe environment for athletes to play notwithstanding fears among some student athletes who are opting out due to COVID-19.

“We are here to say, from the state of Florida, we want you guys to play,” DeSantis said during a roundtable discussion about collegiate athletics at Florida State University.

And last week, DeSantis brought Florida sports legend Charlie Ward to a roundtable meeting Thursday to discuss the importance of athletic opportunities for Florida students, particularly for lower-income families.

“As we look to what’s coming up in this school year — I think it’s important, I think it’s critical that we have boys and girls’ sports available for our students,” the governor said at the time.

According to a Miami Herald report, Sept. 4 will be the “first Friday of the high school football season, less than two weeks after practices are allowed to begin.” And the report said that “Fall sports practices were originally supposed to begin last month with the regular season beginning Aug. 20.”

Also on Friday, DeSantis stressed the importance of addressing mental health during the pandemic and how school closings have affected children.

“I think that we are going to be dealing with ramifications involving mental health for a long time,” DeSantis said during a roundtable discussion Friday in Sarasota. “We need to be prepared to face this head on.”

The Republican governor was joined by First Lady Casey DeSantis, the Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary Chad Poppell and other child welfare advocates in the state.

Casey DeSantis said her organization, Hope for Healing Florida, has been working with DCF and other state agencies to spread awareness surrounding mental health among youth and “to think about not only how we can help children but how we can help people across the state.”

The First Lady said data has shown a decrease in calls to crisis hotlines in Florida related to child abuse, child abuse investigations, sexual abuse allegations and physical abuse.

“But those numbers really don’t tell the story because numbers are numbers, these are children,” the First Lady said.

“What our children are enduring at homes where they are not getting the proper supervision, they don’t have their advocates fighting for them – I cannot put into words, as a mother of a 3-year-old, a 2-year-old and a four month old baby, when you seek victims of abuse as young as 2, you can’t, it’s too much.”

“So we are here to fight, we are here to fight for them and make a difference. Mental health is a big deal and it will continue to be a big deal.”

She also pointed to a recent mental health survey by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, showing that young people in the country have been experiencing some form of mental health issues.

The First Lady said it’s important for Floridians to know about mental health resources. “We could have the best programs, but if nobody knows if they exist, then they won’t utilize them,” she said.