JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Surrounded by a roster of renowned athletes in Jacksonville Thursday, Governor Ron DeSantis made it clear he hopes local school districts will allow high school sports programs to proceed, along with in-person learning.
“These are things that really have a lasting impact,” the governor said. “And I just think that we have to understand that the cancellation of the sports, that has huge effects. And we don’t want to relive that because I think that would be depriving our students of opportunity.”
Coaches say those opportunities build skills like teamwork and discipline.
“You know the discipline for us to be able to share with our guys, this is what we need for you guys to do, and be able to hold them accountable,” said Coach Charlie Ward, a former college football star and Heisman Trophy winner. “That’s been one of the toughest things virtually we’ve had trouble with. Is being able to hold our kids accountable for their actions.”
Several coaches expressed concern Thursday that students will find something less desirable to do if sports are canceled.
“We hope it will be something constructive, but that’s not always the case,” said Suwannee High School coach Kyler Hall. “What about the kids that have nothing outside of sports? There are a lot of kids who don’t have a father-figure around the house. So when they come to school, and they’re around their coaches, that’s it.”
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio sent a proposal to the governor Thursday, which outlines a safe return to high school sports. The pitch includes mandatory shields for football helmets, antibody testing, and socially distanced huddles.
Rubio believes the guidelines will help lower the risk of infection during competition.
And it’s safe to say these coaches, agree safety comes first.
“We need sports,” said Hall. “We need to start. Do it in a safe way, and taking the precautions that we can. But these kids need it.”
Statewide, the Florida High School Athletic Association has delayed the start of high school fall sports until no earlier than August 24.
The decision made Thursday afternoon in Hillsborough County to delay opening public school campuses could delay sports programs even longer.