School fall sports start date in Pasco moves up to Aug. 24

Pasco County opted to move up the start date for high school sports from Sept. 7 to Aug. 24, the first day students return to class. All non-football fall sports, like volleyball, will be able to play their first games on Sept. 8. Junior varsity football games can begin Sept. 10, followed by varsity games Sept. 11.

LAND O’ LAKES — Classes aren’t the only things starting back up Aug. 24 in Pasco County, so are sports.

Schools districts throughout the state have wrestled with both restarts — classes and sports — during the COVID-19 pandemic, with dates being pushed back and moved forward frequently in recent months. Until the morning of Wednesday, Aug. 19, Pasco County intended to stick with its plan to start sports tryouts and practices on Sept. 7, two weeks after the allowable restart date of Aug. 24, per Florida High School Athletic Association guidelines.

During an Aug. 14 meeting in Gainesville, the FHSAA’s Board of Directors voted 11-5 to allow schools to begin fall sports activities on Aug. 24 as opposed to pushing the date back, as recommended by its Sports Medicine Advisory Committee

Pasco County officials first chose to stick with its Sept. 7 start date before making the change on Aug. 19.

“For us it’s more about scheduling,” Pasco County Athletic Director Matt Wicks said during an Aug. 19 phone call, adding that it puts Pasco in alignment with nearby counties like Hillsborough and Pinellas.

Hernando County, which suspended its fall sports indefinitely before announcing a Sept. 14 start date, is affecting Pasco the most, Wicks said. Unless a change is announced, Hernando public high school teams will only play teams within the county.

“Hernando decided to do their own thing,” Wicks said. “I have volleyball teams that have half their district in Hernando. But it is what it is. We’ll find games, hopefully.”

For example, Class 4A District 6 in volleyball contains three Pasco schools (Cypress Creek, Hudson and Wesley Chapel) and four Hernando schools (Central, Hernando, Nature Coast Tech and Weeki Wachee).

Although moving the start date up two weeks created a quick turnaround, Wicks said he’s confident programs can fill many scheduling holes. All sports other than football begin playing games Sept. 8. Junior varsity football games can begin Sept. 10, followed by varsity games Sept. 11. Wicks added that reactions from coaches and others have been overwhelmingly positive.

“I think the coaches are excited,” Wicks said. “I think the principals have a lot on their plate right now, and we kind of added to it today, but I think sports is one of those things that is going to get our kids back to feeling normal in school. I think it’s one of those positive pieces.”

An added benefit of moving the start date up to Aug. 24 is that Pasco County sports programs will be eligible to play in the postseason state series. Programs would have been ineligible had practices and tryouts started Sept. 7.

Wicks also addressed changes involving game day for all sports, saying that all facilities – stadiums, gyms, fields, etc. – will be permitted to operate at 50 percent capacity. Masks and social distancing will be required, and fans will be encouraged to purchase tickets in advance online. “We want people to purchase their tickets online,” Wicks said. “We’re going to allow some walk-ups at the gate but that’s going to be limited.”

Each school will notify family, students and others where to go online to purchase tickets.

Cheerleaders from both teams will be permitted at games, but only the home team’s band will be able to perform. Decisions regarding cheerleading and bands vary from county to county, Wicks said, mentioning that Hillsborough isn’t allowing visiting cheerleaders to games within its borders.

Concession stands will also be permitted to operate, though all items will have to be in a closed or sealed container, Wicks said.

Media coverage will also be permitted, Wicks said, with reporters wearing masks and observing social distancing requirements.