Following a trend from school districts around the state, the Citrus County School District announced on Wednesday, July 22, 2020, that the start date for fall sports will be delayed until Aug. 24.
The news came out while the Citrus County School Board was holding an emergency meeting in which the first day of school in the county was delayed 10 days to Aug. 20.
"In meeting with the three athletic directors, collaboratively the decision was made for Aug. 24," assistant superintendent and county athletic director Jonny Bishop said. "As a group we felt it was important to put academics ahead of athletics and the decision was made."
Fall sports practices could begin as early as Monday, July 27, after the FHSAA Board of Directors voted this past Monday to maintain its original calendar. Overwhelmingly, however, counties have opted for postponement.
There are still many details to iron out, and Bishop said he will present a comprehensive plan for how fall sports will operate moving forward at a school board workshop on Tuesday.
"There’s a lot of parts to this, from officiating to fans to what the expectations are for wearing mask, to how do we clean locker rooms," Citrus County School Board member Doug Dodd said. "All of these things have to be taken into consideration. If we’re going to allow our student-athletes to compete we want to be as safe as we can."
One issue to figure out will be scheduling. Bishop said schools in Citrus and Hernando counties are working together to rework the schedule for their mutual conference, the Gulf Coast 8. Hernando County has moved its first day of school back to Aug. 31, and its athletic directors are scheduled to meet on Thursday to decide on starting fall sports.
There’s also the matter of whether the county will participate in the state series for fall sports. As part of the motion that passed at Monday’s FHSAA meeting, schools can opt out of the state series and instead schedule regular-season games through the end of the state series. That will be a decision made collectively by the county schools, Bishop said.
Dodd, who is the president-elect for the FHSAA Board of the Directors, was among the FHSAA board members to vote in favor of the motion, which passed 10-5, to keep the July 27 start date during Monday’s Zoom meeting that lasted nearly five hours and was viewed by thousands on YouTube.
As the meeting went on, Dodd said his vote was swayed by what he felt was a surprising lack of support for the recommendations made by the FHSAA’s Fall Sports Task Force, which included delaying the start for fall sports to Aug. 10.
"That was a little perplexing for me," said Dodd, who noted the Board of Directors included some task force members. "I was seriously considering pushing all sports to Aug. 10. I talked to the executive director and that was my feeling before the meeting started, and as the meeting went on and everyone discussed options and the task force didn’t vote for its own recommendations and more information came to light, it was more apparent to me to let schools have the ability to decide when it comes time to return to sports."
The decision to maintain the current calendar and ignore the task force recommendations has brought criticism upon the FHSAA on social media. During the meeting, board president Lauren Otero delivered pointed comments over what she believed was a lack of leadership and guidance by FHSAA administration during the pandemic.
"The work of the staff of the FHSAA, I think they’ve been very dedicated," Dodd said. "I think Mr. (FHSAA executive director George) Tomyn is dealing with a lot of uncharted territory. I agreed with him that we waited as long as we could before canceling (spring) sports. We tried to hold out hope.
"There are a lot of questions and we’ve got to continue to communicate with the athletic directors and superintendents."
The Board of Directors will be holding another emergency Zoom meeting on Thursday at 5 p.m. to further discuss issues on returning to play. Board members asked for a second meeting to allow time to digest a report from the FHSAA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee.
Seven Rivers Christian athletic director Gary Dreyer said that as of Wednesday the school was prepared to begin fall practices on Monday. However, the topic will be among those discussed in a meeting on Thursday.
Dreyer said the school is prepared with health and safety procedures in place, and that its football and volleyball schedules remain intact. Yet the situation is certainly fluid.
"Everything I say today," Dreyer said, "could be completely different tomorrow."