Photography by ALICE MARY HERDEN
The Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) issued the following statement on April 20, 2020 in regards to the Spring High School sports season:
GAINESVILLE, FL – Following Governor Ron DeSantis’ announcement mandating schools continue distance learning for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year, it is with heavy hearts that the FHSAA has decided to cancel all FHSAA affiliated events, inclusive of the state series and all championship events, for spring sports. The safety of our student-athletes, coaches, officials, and fans is our top priority. With the evolving threat of the CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19), we must ensure that we do not contribute to the spread of this illness. We are deeply saddened for our student-athletes who have seen their seasons and/or high school careers end so abruptly. Our Association knows the impact and role high school athletics play in the lives of so many and will continue to work towards the betterment of high school sports. We know this is a trying time, but the health and safety of all is of utmost importance to this Association (https://www.fhsaa.org/news/2020/0420)
During the spring football season, graduating seniors have one more opportunity to get padded up, lace up their cleats, shout in their hype-it-up huddle, feel the turf and don their school’s logo with pride. Unfortunately 2020 seniors won’t have that opportunity.
“Sheer disappointment,” said Central High School’s head coach Robert Walden.
Coach Walden began his first season as Central High School’s football coach in 2019.
“The COVID-19 shut things down,” Walden said. “[I am] hoping maybe some type of miracle to get to go back and play spring football, but it’s not looking likely.”
One purpose of conducting spring football games according to Walden is to check out the new student-athletes wanting to join the program.
“There’s a lot of new kids on campus, and I was excited to have that opportunity to get those kids out there and work at the small stuff,” Walden said.
As the spring games were all set, summer 7v7 games were also getting booked on the calendar.
“Before this all started, we were getting games set up after we came back from spring break, but obviously that didn’t happen,” Walden said. “That’s something we would have done all through the summer, and if we are able to get back after it, we will continue to do that.”
“Being my first year as high school varsity head coach, I am proud of the seniors we had,” Walden said. “We knew we had a lot of work to do coming off an 0-10 season. I counted on those guys (Seniors) to be leaders, and when things got rough, they finished out with a positive attitude. They realized football was just more wins and losses.”
Walden added this statement in a Twitter message….
“A lot of people lost a lot of things during this difficult time, graduation, prom, athletics, jobs, and even loved ones. I think if there is a season, players, coaches and fans will have a greater appreciation of sports. The old saying goes, you don’t know how much you miss something until it’s gone. That is true for me and for many others, I’m sure. Hopefully, things will get to some kind of normal where we can compete again, not just football. The 2020 season will be special 0-10, 10-0, or somewhere in between records is not important at the moment. Continuing to build positive, meaningful relationships with the players and coaches is what’s important, pandemic or not. Hopefully, we will be back sooner rather than later.”
Robert Kazmier stated in a Twitter message:
“First and foremost, this has been a major learning experience for everyone. As football coaches, we constantly preach to our players about sacrificing for the greater good and putting others before themselves. This sentiment has been magnified throughout this entire crisis. It has made it real, and it strengthens our purpose. We are quarantining and social distancing for the safety of the greater good. Across the world, sports and entertainment have become an afterthought to the preservation of life. When it comes to our roles as football coaches and educators, the most frustrating and disheartening feeling that we are experiencing is uncertainty. Players and parents have frequently been asking about spring football since this began. Today we received confirmation that all spring sports are officially over. I have already been asked about summer workouts today. The only answer I could muster was, “I don’t know.” Football will be back eventually. Players are responsible for their own strength and conditioning for the foreseeable future. This creates more uncertainty. The players that want it more and have put the work in will take center stage once we get back on the field. Football will still be football. We just have to hope that the discipline and work ethic we have drilled into our players allows them to improve while no one is watching.”
“I am more of a “big picture” type of person. I honestly think this pandemic will open people’s eyes to the true priorities in life. Sports are a distraction to the real world. They hold value in the lessons they teach and the skills they build, but sports don’t last forever. When there is a crisis or disaster, sports stop, and real-life becomes the focus. We all come from different backgrounds with different types of life at home. But this has made me value my time, my family, and the fragility of life more than ever. I have been reflecting and evaluating heavily in my free time.”
In the wake of FHSAA’s announcement on spring sporting event cancellations we asked local coaches and athletic directors the following questions.
Once you heard about the cancellations of spring sports, what was the first thing that went through your head?
Dustin Kupcik Springstead Athletic Director: I was caught off guard because the ADs were kind of out of the loop. We found out at the same time as the rest of the public through a Facebook post. While I respect and understand the need to make this decision for the safety of our student-athletes, coaches, and community. Also that it is not my decision to make, I just wish the ADs were a part of the conversation. My head and heart then went immediately to our seniors. No Senior night, no more opportunities to show out for college recruiters, no magical playoffs runs, their high school careers just end...without any real warning. My heart hurts for them.
Coach Chris Cook, Weeki Wachee High School: I’m not sure what the first thing that went through my mind was. It was more like my mind was flooded with bad thoughts. I have had a group of athletes that had over 60 lifting sessions in, and they were really looking forward to the Spring Season and playing against Calvary Christian. So, I felt really bad for them. Also, I have several seniors that are missing their last Spring season and a chance to get some game film and continue the recruiting process. Generally, I just feel bad for the young men that have been working so hard and are missing an opportunity to do what they love.
David Raley, HCA: My first thought was for the safety and wellbeing of our kids. While sports are important, it is not as important as family and the health and safety of our HCA families. I also felt very sad for the kids and the seniors in particular. While I love football, other sports are as important to those coaches and kids as football is to me.
Did you have games set up for the spring season? What was the importance of setting up to play that particular school?
Dustin Kupcik Springstead Athletic Director: We were set up to play Dunnellon again, this time here in Eagle Country, under our new LED Stadium lights. They are a strong program with a lot of talent and solid, knowledgeable coaching staff. We feel like they are a good measuring stick for us in the Spring. Playing teams of Dunnellon’s caliber in the Spring really gives us an idea of where we are at and what we need to build on.
Coach Chris Cook, Weeki Wachee High School: Yes, Calvary Christian at home. They are a strong 3A team that makes the playoffs consistently. It would have been a great opportunity to face a very talented group of kids and see what our strengths are and where we need to improve the most during the summer.
David Raley, HCA: There are several reasons I don’t normally schedule a Spring game. While I understand the importance of them and the motivational factors involved in a game, I must prefer the Spring to be an educational experience instead of a performance experience. We spend the Spring trying to find something unique that we may have overlooked in a player during the previous Fall. We spend the first week of Spring, letting everyone try out various skills and positions to see if they can do something unique. It’s a lot of fun for them, and sometimes we see something out of a player that we did not expect. If I’m trying to prepare for a game, I might overlook a skill or quality in a player that is hidden. Lastly, being a private school, our rosters change dramatically from the Spring to the Fall.
Was there a focus you wanted to work on during Spring, either with player’s positions or the execution of plays?
Dustin Kupcik Springstead Athletic Director: As the offensive coordinator, I’ll stick to my side of the ball for this question. We return the majority of our offensive line and have some key back-ups from last year that showed great promise and have been working really hard in the offseason that should slide right in to fill the few holes we have. So that is really an area of strength for us going into spring ball. On the flip side, we lost a lot from our backfield. The Spring was going to be a crucial time to bring the new guys up to speed. They all need maximum reps and need to build a bit of a rapport or chemistry with each other. There will be a lot of position battles in the backfield, and spring ball would have been the ideal time to sort some of that out.
Coach Chris Cook, Weeki Wachee High School: Our main focus was to continue to develop our offense. We started to click during the last half of last year’s season. Spring is also a time to evaluate players and try to lock down positions.
David Raley, HCA: Our Spring practice is the time that we begin our team focus on the weight room. We are a team that is built in the weight room, and Coach Pants is excellent at organizing the players. The loss of our weight workouts and structure for our players is going to be very difficult to replace. I have no idea at this point how any of this is going to work. It’s a very difficult situation.
A glimmer of hope after May 3rd….. Maybe, What’s your plan if all this is a go for spring football?
Dustin Kupcik Springstead Athletic Director: We have been told by the Superintendent that there will be no sports for the rest of the school year. So I really don’t see it transpiring. We will do our best as a staff to continue to provide our kids with quality coaching, just from afar. We have been and will continue to give them at home workouts and drills, hold virtual meetings with film review and scheme install/review, help to monitor their online schooling and attack the college recruiting process. Our staff will still hold coaches’ meetings, just virtually, as well as take advantage of the abundance of online resources that have been made available to coaches during this pandemic.
Coach Chris Cook, Weeki Wachee High School: I am not certain what we will do or what we will be allowed to do. If we can push back the date with Calvary, we will play them. If we can not play them, I’d like to have an inter-squad scrimmage, at least. One thing that we will definitely do is get back in the weight room.
David Raley, HCA: We now know this isn’t possible.
Are there things in the works for summer, and how are you going to implement into your football plans?
Dustin Kupcik Springstead Athletic Director: At the moment, we are planning as if we will be having our traditional summer workouts, 4 days a week, with 7v7 sprinkled in. I am cautiously optimistic that things will be much better by then. But, I also understand that there is a possibility that things will still be on hold. It must be safe for all involved. The thing that concerns me is the amount of time that is needed to get our athletes properly conditioned and ready to play and face the grind of a 12-16 week season. We can’t just show up and play; it wouldn’t be safe. The high school sports landscape might be very different come next school year.
Coach Chris Cook, Weeki Wachee High School: Yes, the summer will be primarily devoted to strength and conditioning. We will not be attending a team camp this summer. But I am sending many of the kids to individual camps based on position.
David Raley, HCA: We don’t know right now how any of this is going to work. Hopefully, we will be allowed to begin our strength and conditioning program. It is very important to us.
Do you feel the Fall season is going to be something new, something more? Why?
Dustin Kupcik Springstead Athletic Director: At this moment in time, all we can do is plan as if it will start on time until we are told differently. As we can all see, this pandemic is an ever-changing situation. Things get better or worse, almost daily. New outbreaks, studies, and data, as well as possible therapeutics and vaccines, seem to be popping up around the clock. We will do our best as coaches to be flexible and innovative. If and when we are given the green light, it will be full steam ahead.
Coach Chris Cook, Weeki Wachee High School: I don’t really think there will be anything new or different. Possibly the only thing that will be new will be not having a spring game under our belt. If we miss that, we will not see how some of our kids perform in-game situations.
David Raley, HCA: I’ve coached for a long time, and I’ve seen many things; however, there has been nothing like this pandemic in my lifetime. The big question is, what will the state of Florida allow us to do? No one knows, and that is not easy for coaches who are used to planning every detail for an entire season far in advance. For 2020 in many ways, I feel that we will be rebuilding due to so much graduation and transfers. However, I don’t feel it will be as difficult a season as 2012, because we have several excellent returning starters. Our team leaders are excellent and committed young men and desire to be successful. They will be ready to play this season. Our teams have been known for physical toughness, determination, discipline, and organization since we started playing football at HCA in 2004. I have no reason to believe that things will be any different in 2020.
If you could share one thing with your 2020 seniors and the seniors for 2021, what would it be?
Dustin Kupcik Springstead Athletic Director: To the 2020 Seniors, I just say, “Thank you.” We had tremendous senior leaders on and off the field this past season, which is a huge reason we had so much success. Truly a great group to be around, they made it fun. All of them are welcome back any time.
To the 2021 class, I hope they learn from the c/o 2020 in 2 ways.
1) Be the leaders on the field, in the hallways and locker room.
2) We have now all seen, in real-time, how sports can literally be taken away from you in a moment’s notice. Traditionally, I don’t think most kids, unless they have had the misfortune of a catastrophic injury, really grasp that concept of “playing every play as if it’s your last.” I hope that they live that out, rep by rep, play by play. I hope they have a greater appreciation for the sport, for the grind, and for just being a part of a team.
Coach Chris Cook, Weeki Wachee High School: That is a tough question. There are a few things that we communicate to our kids every time we meet and are the core of my coaching philosophy.
They have to know that we love them and care for them.
We believe in them and that they can succeed.
Don’t waste the opportunities that are presented to you.
Never quit or give up ! ! !
David Raley, HCA: Be ready, you never know who is going to have a great breakout year. We will play football in 2020 and be the best that we can be.
NCT Head Coach Cory Johns: Nature Coast Technical High School football coach Cory Johns set up his spring football competition against George Jenkins High School once again. This game would have provided an opportunity to find the answer to a critical question: Who will replace Fabian Burnett, as Sharks Quarterback?
Johns said that he has no plans for the summer months as of yet; however, he is sending daily workouts via Twitter.
Johns would like to remind all the 2020 seniors:
“I love you all and always do the following in everything you do.
Good, Better, Best - Never Let It Rest - Until Your Good is Better - And Your Better is Best”