December 5, 2021

Acqua NYC

Fit And Go Forward

South Florida coaches aren’t happy with FHSAA. Now Miami schools consider breaking away

For frustrated high school football coaches in South Florida, there is some momentum behind an idea once thought to be radical: a South Florida secession from the Florida High School Athletics Association.

Iit even has support from Miami-Dade County Public Schools board vice chair Dr. Steve Gallon III, who announced he plans to propose the county withdraw from the FHSAA at an August board meeting. Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho said on Twitter the school district is “disappointed” with the FHSAA’s decision and “discussing the impact” of the decision.

“We have heard from the FHSAA loud and clear,” Gallon said in a statement. “They now need to hear from us.”

Hector Clavijo, like so many other high school football coaches across Florida, spent way longer than he anticipated Monday staring at a computer screen. For nearly five hours, the Hialeah Champagnat Catholic coach watched in equal parts astonishment, frustration and disappointment as the 15 members of the FHSAA Board of Directors tried — and, in the opinion of most South Florida coaches, failed — to formulate an equitable plan to play the fall high school sports seasons safely amid the COVID-19 pandemic. When it ended, he went to work putting together some possible plans he thought might be better.

The nearly five-hour meeting led to basically nothing. The Board voted 10-5 to keep the fall sports calendar intact. Seasons are still scheduled to begin in August. Football state championships will still be held in December. Schools, in theory, can begin practicing Monday.

In reality, the vast majority of schools around the state won’t.

Luther Campbell, the outspoken Miami Edison coach, spent the same five hours doing the same thing and as the meeting dragged on without any real signs of progress, he took to Twitter and began calling for, effectively, a South Florida secession. Mike Manasco, the coach at Miami Palmetto, watched and wondered how coaches from across the state could better have input in the decision.

Dave Dunn, the coach for reigning Class 8A champion Miami Columbus, summed it up perfectly on Twitter: “The state finally found a way to slow down Dade County.”

The FHSAA’s decision to keep the fall sports calendar intact did not go over well in South Florida area.

“It’s basically just saying, ‘Well, we don’t give a [expletive] about the populations that are south of St. Lucie County,’” Manasco said Tuesday.

The nearly five-hour meeting led to basically nothing. The Board voted 10-5 to keep the fall sports calendar intact. Seasons are still scheduled to begin in August. Football state championships will still be held in December. Schools, in theory, can begin practicing Monday.

In reality, the vast majority of schools around the state won’t.

On Tuesday, four of the seven largest counties in the state — Broward County, Orange County, Hillsborough County and Pinellas County — have announced their schools won’t begin practicing Monday. Miami-Dade County Public Schools (MDCPS) said in an email Tuesday it’s “difficult” to envision practices starting Monday.

A few hours into the board meeting, Miami Riviera Prep athletic director Mark Schusterman said administrators in South Florida are concerned their seasons might not be able to start until November, which could effectively exclude teams from Miami-Dade and Broward counties from competing for FHSAA championships a year after the counties combined to win seven of eight football state titles.

Said Manasco: “I’m a firm believer that we should all stick together through this, but after watching last night they’ve just kind of not given us an option.”

Miami Edison Red Raiders coach Luther Campbell, directs from the sidelines as Westminster Christian hosts Edison High at football at Westminster Christian in Palmetto Bay on Friday, November 8, 2019.
Miami Edison Red Raiders coach Luther Campbell, directs from the sidelines as Westminster Christian hosts Edison High at football at Westminster Christian in Palmetto Bay on Friday, November 8, 2019.

‘A sad case of leadership’

In the course of nearly five hours Monday, the board read just four proposals. The successful proposal, made by Wewahitchka athletic director Bobby Johns and endorsed by FHSAA executive director George Tomyn, kept the calendar intact. The Sports Medicine Advisory Committee (SMAC) made a series of recommendations, presented by Dr. Jennifer Maynard of the Mayo Clinic Florida, advising the delay of football and girls’ volleyball “until further notice” because it is “not medically safe” to begin playing those two at this time.

There was a proposal made by the FHSAA-organized Fall Sports Task Force for a staggered start, splitting teams into divisions based on when they could start. Schusterman proposed delaying the start of sports until at least Aug. 10 and reconvening for a meeting Aug. 3 to further discuss the SMAC recommendations.

Before Johns’ proposal about four hours in, none of the other proposals gained significant traction. Several board members suggested they had not read the SMAC’s recommendations prior to the meeting. No Board members entered the meeting with any proposals of their own, leaving them to figure out a plan on the fly. The Board also forgot to read emails sent in by the public before voting.

“It just seemed unprepared,” Manasco said.

After Johns’ plan was approved, Tampa Plant athletic director Lauren Otero proposed a motion to adopt the SMAC recommendation to have a uniform COVID questionnaire for member schools. It was voted down 12-4.

Ultimately, none of the SMAC’s recommendations, all unanimously approved by the 10-person committee of medical professionals, were adopted by the FHSAA Board.

On the same day the FHSAA voted against the SMAC recommendations, Florida reported more than 10,000 new cases of the coronavirus with a positivity rate greater than 20 percent.

“They just totally disregarded the SMAC report,” Campbell said Tuesday. “That was like a total disregard of the science, which we’ve been hearing so much in this bad political climate about who believes in science and who don’t. That right there was shameful and sad.”

Said Dunn: “It was hard to watch. For a lot of reasons, it was hard to watch. When a high school football coach starts to question medical data — stay in your lane.”

The board plans to meet again Friday to further discuss the SMAC recommendations, including the uniform questionnaire and implementing mandatory daily temperature checks.

Once Johns’ plan was approved, Manasco decided to look up the FHSAA’s statement of purpose. “Participation in these programs enriches the educational experience of qualified student-athletes by providing them with opportunities to compete in an equitable, sportsmanlike and wholesome manner,” it reads, in part.

Several coaches used the word “equitable” when discussing their issues with the FHSAA’s current plan. Right now, the FHSAA plan doesn’t ensure it. By discouraging unity, the FHSAA is inviting dissent.

“It was a sad case of leadership,” Campbell said. “These guys, who were used to doing business as usual, came in with the understanding that this is what they were going to do. They weren’t going to take into consideration safety for the kids first, and it’s a travesty that we’re in a pandemic and they’re, in my opinion, making it about Dade County versus the rest of the state.”

The Lions head coach Hector Clavijo, III looks on as Champagnat Lions play North Florida Christian Eagles in the Florida High School Athletic Association State Chapionships Class 2A at Camping World Stadium in Orlando on Friday, December 7, 2018.
The Lions head coach Hector Clavijo, III looks on as Champagnat Lions play North Florida Christian Eagles in the Florida High School Athletic Association State Chapionships Class 2A at Camping World Stadium in Orlando on Friday, December 7, 2018.

‘They’re forcing us down that road’

One of Clavijo’s plans, which he shared in full Tuesday on Facebook, would allow for an abbreviated season to start in October and still end on time. He’s trying to circulate the plan throughout South Florida and get in front of the board at the Friday meeting.

His other pet project he worked on Tuesday was figuring out how to realign Miami-Dade County’s schools in a manner to best determine a county champion, if the county can’t start playing until too late in the fall to compete in the FHSAA’s state series.

If Miami-Dade County is forced to break off from the Florida High School Athletic Association, this could be a potential realignment for districts, based on school sizes. Schools listed in color are either moving up or down in order to keep districts similar sizes.
If Miami-Dade County is forced to break off from the Florida High School Athletic Association, this could be a potential realignment for districts, based on school sizes. Schools listed in color are either moving up or down in order to keep districts similar sizes.

“Plan A would be we all start the same day, we all get a chance to compete for a championship and that would be my opinion,” Dunn said Tuesday. “If we can’t do that, the next best thing would be to find a way to get a schedule, play games and obviously if it’s within Dade County, then it’s going to be great competition. I hope it doesn’t come to that, but that would be my Plan B.”

Said Manasco: “I have a hard time saying I agree or disagree with that kind of stuff yet, but, man, they’re forcing us down that road and it sucks because we do have a great athletic program in South Florida that really fuels a lot of what the state of Florida gets recognized as having.”

Campbell is the most vocal proponent of independence and would like include all of South Florida, plus potentially other major metropolitan areas concerned about playing under the current calendar.

“I’m talking to some of the powers that be around here and they’ve already been frustrated by the FHSAA,” Campbell said. “This is the perfect time to break away.”

A handful of the region’s top football programs can work independently of county guidelines. Champagnat, the reigning Class 2A champion, is not part of Greater Miami Athletic Conference. Hollywood Chaminade-Madonna, the reigning Class 3A champion, is not part of the Broward County Athletic Association. Both schools can decide independently when to start practicing. Neither, however, will begin practicing Monday, Clavijo and Chaminade-Madonna coach Dameon Jones said.

Roger Harriott, coach of reigning Class 7A champion Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, understands why certain counties want this plan. If South Florida is the only region unable to play in September or October, he doesn’t want the area to prevent everyone else from playing.

South Florida holds some leverage, though: Are state championships really state championships if South Florida isn’t involved?

“They’re making decisions based on their own personal situation. However, this compromises the FHSAA’s objectives for equity with its membership schools,” Harriott said in a text message Tuesday. “This will inevitably initiate independent discussions for counties to take matters into their own hands.”

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