Uncertain times for high school spring sports coaches, players

Like high school athletics fields throughout Florida and the nation, the Mitchell High baseball field is devoid of practice or pre-game preparation on a Thursday afternoon.

High school classes and all extracurricular activities remain on hold. Indefinitely. For now.

The coronavirus pandemic has presented an unprecedent situation for the state, school districts and other associated organizations. The state announced the suspension of all K-12 classes at least through April 15. The Florida High School Athletic Association followed suit and released a statement that no sporting events or organized practices would be taking place through April 15.

That return date, however, is tenuous at best, and area coaches are aware what that could mean for the rest of the spring sports schedule.

“It’s beyond bizarre,” said Dunedin baseball coach Ron Sexton. “Really for the first time since I’ve coached, I didn’t know what to tell the kids. My fear is that the season is over, and I think the kids are kind of sensing the same.”

The April 15 date from the state came less than a week after school districts throughout the state were still coming up with their own plans of action. On Friday, March 13, Pinellas County Schools announced that classes and extracurriculars were on hold until March 27. March 13 was the last night East Lake softball and most other Tampa Bay area teams took the field. Eagles coach Kristie Delk said at the time that told her players they would have to lift, hit and work on their own until the district and state says otherwise. Organized team meetings are prohibited but group texts, social media and other forms of communication allow players and coaches to stay in touch and suggest ways to keep in playing shape if play isn’t cancelled.

“Outside of going to Dunedin Little League and working out on their own, I really didn’t have much to tell them,” Sexton said. “I knew we couldn’t have organized practices. I just told them to enjoy your spring break as best you can. But it’s a tough one.”

Simply in sports terms, the worst-case scenario is losing the rest of the spring athletics season – especially for seniors.

“My heart aches for the seniors,” Sexton said. “You only get one senior year and it just really stinks to see kids not get that opportunity.”

Colleges are exploring the idea of offering extended eligibility to current seniors who have already had their final seasons cut short. The chances of that seemed unlikely as of March 18, but the concept had yet to be scrapped entirely. Providing such an opportunity to high school seniors seems even more improbable, Sexton said. The FHSAA’s March 18 press release addressed the topic, as well, stating that there would have to be an alteration to Bylaw 9.5.1 that limits a student’s high school eligibility to eight consecutive semesters, beginning with the semester he/she begins ninth grade for the first time. Student-athletes can play more than eight total semesters if they’re on the varsity roster while still in middle school.

One thing Sexton said he’d like to see, if possible, is outside outlets and organizations hosting showcase games for seniors who may lose out on most or all of their final seasons to impress college scouts. If extended eligibility isn’t granted to current college seniors, coaches around the country would stand to benefit from showcase events or tournaments, as well.

To find the latest updates from the FHSAA, go to its website at www.FHSAA.org.