Irma’s aftermath causes scheduling chaos

Photography by Cheryl Clanton

Hurricane Irma is in the rearview mirror, but her impacts are still being felt. High school sports may be a low-level concern as the state recovers from the storm, however coaches and administrators are nonetheless scrambling trying to figure out how to move forward.
In Hernando County, where school and all activities had already been called off last Thursday through Saturday in preparation for Irma, prep sports have been shut down until Monday, when all schools will reopen. That means no practices and no games, even if they’re off campus or outside the county.
“We don’t even know where to start,” Springstead athletic director Dustin Kupcik said. “There’s so many games and so many sports. They’re district games, county games, games you, a, have to get in and, b, you want to get in.
“We’ve got to tread lightly. People down the road are in worse situations than us and it’s a blessing to be talking about this problem. We’re trying to get back to a sense of normalcy and get these kids playing again.”
The primary problem for the school district appears to be the use of many of its campuses as shelters. In some cases, evacuees haven’t left, particularly those whose medical needs require electricity. There’s also the matter of clean-up, especially at Nature Coast, which became a last-minute pet shelter.
Of course, the most prominent issue is with football. Unlike last week’s postponed contests, most of which won’t be rescheduled, this week’s games were the first in district action and must somehow be played. It just won’t be on Friday, and to this point no coaches or AD were close to figuring out when.
On Tuesday, the FHSAA issued a press release stating it was opting against pushing the state’s entire schedule back a week and detailing options for teams to play makeups. For teams that don’t have matching bye weeks, the two most likely scenarios are canceling non-district games to open up a spot on the schedule or playing on a Monday.
“The thing I worry about is three games in eight days for the kids,” Central athletic director Al Sorrentino said. “You want to try to keep guys healthy so you’re not playing at a disadvantage. But it is what it is. We have to find a way to make it work.”
“It’s a frustrating situation, but there’s nothing you can do about it,” Nature Coast athletic director Kristin Peeples said. “It effects a lot of different areas. Yes, the kids are losing playing time. That’s the biggest thing. But it effects a lot of schools financially.”
That’s certainly the case for Central, which was set to host Nature Coast on Friday night. Sorrentino was anticipating the school’s biggest gate of the year.
There’s also the oddity of having a week and a half off with no practice in the middle of the season.
“It’s a weird situation,” Central head football coach Chris Sands said. “It’s kind of like a spring practice, where you play a spring game and then there’s all this time off until fall camp.”
“Really, conditioning levels start to break down at 72 hours. We are going to be looking at 12 days in between practices,” Hernando head football coach Bill Vonada said. “Definitely, it’s a disruption and it is what it is. We were fortunate to get through Irma without a major catastrophe.”
The Leopards were supposed to host Class 5A, District 7 foe Lecanto on Friday, while Springstead had 6A-6 opponent Mitchell coming into town. Weeki Wachee caught a break, already having a scheduled bye week, though head coach Jacob Gray had hoped to fill that opening after last week’s cancelations.
While Weeki Wachee head coach Mark Lee won’t have to worry about football, there’s the other sports to deal with and sort out.
“Monday when we get back into school, I’ll be in my office getting to work on scheduling,” Lee said.
Golf and swim teams have already lost several matches and meets due to weather this season. Volleyball squads have district matches that must be played, and teams from Hernando and Nature Coast both were forced to pull out of tournaments this weekend. In that sport, tournament-style doubleheaders are being discussed.
Hernando Christian Academy has also had to push pause on its fall sports season, as its campus has no power. Athletic director Mike Drummond said teams could hold optional practices if electricity is restored before the end of the week.
Despite the mounting frustration caused by this unprecedented circumstance, all those involved seem to take solace in the fact they aren’t alone.
“Once we sit down and look at what we need to make up and what we need to do, everyone needs to understand we have to cut schedules for other sports and we have to do the best we can,” Hernando athletic director Kevin Bittinger said. “As of right now, there are more important things.
“It’ll be tough and it’ll take not just me, but coaches, administrators, and not just at Hernando but all the district working together.”
Follow Chris Bernhardt Jr. on Twitter @cpbernhardtjr.

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