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The Layners’ love of sports runs deep

Bob Putnam

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Amanda and Taylor Layner

Taylor Layner knew what he wanted in a relationship. The former Osceola baseball standout preferred someone who worked hard and was passionate about helping others. 

One more thing. She had to be a sports fanatic.

He found that in Amanda Byers. 

The two became friends at South Florida State College in 2012. He was a pitcher for the Panthers. She was an outfielder on the softball team. 

They reconnected about two years later at a Florida State-Miami football game. A relationship developed, albeit long distance. Layner transferred to Webber International. Byers went on to Florida Gulf Coast. 

“I found the perfect match,” he said. 

Once their college careers were over, the couple got engaged and moved to the bay area. Both wanted to become high school coaches in their sports. 

Last year, Layner was hired to take over Largo’s struggling baseball program. 

Soon after, the softball position at the school opened up. Layner encouraged his fiancee to apply. She got the Packers job this season. 

With their professional paths set at the same school, the two made plans to start a family. Byers found out she was pregnant in September of 2019. They were married two months later. 

The Layners' wedding

There was no lavish courtship or wedding. 

After all, the diamonds that mattered most to them were on the field, not on any finger. In fact, Taylor proposed at Largo’s baseball stadium.

Their devotion to both sports goes back to when they were in high school. Taylor, a stellar pitcher, was the Pinellas County player of the year in 2011. He recently had his jersey retired at Osceola. Amanda hit .702 her senior season at Miami Dr. Krop, a statistic Taylor did not know until looking it up two weeks ago.

The teams they now coach have become just as much a part of their family. The Layners work tirelessly on fundamentals. They put together travel teams. They stress academics. 

Given the time commitments imposed by classwork and coaching duties, the couple had little time together since school started in the fall. They knew the workload would increase with a child on the way. No matter. 

“I was out there on the field until the doctor told me I couldn’t anymore,” Amanda said.

The players took notice of their dedication. 

“I think it’s a great match up,” Largo junior Zach Wagoner pitcher said of the Layners. “They both take the game seriously and they always put the players first. 

“There have been times during his wife’s pregnancy where the players questioned why (Taylor) was still at practice instead of with his wife. Both of the teams trust them and take their advice to help them grow not only on the field but off of it as well. They’re the best coaching duo you could get.”

Their son’s due date was in late March, the same time the Layners were supposed to be wrapping up their regular seasons. They knew there would be some major juggling with their schedules. Amanda would not be there for the stretch run of her debut season as coach. She would have to rely on her assistants, and her husband, if the season continued. Their parents were willing to babysit whenever needed. 

They made it work. Everything was coming together. The softball team won two games, equaling the program’s total from the previous three seasons combined. In two seasons with the baseball team, Taylor has compiled a combined 15 victories despite dealing with injuries to key players. The win total was more than the two seasons prior to Taylor’s arrival. And the 10 victories Largo recorded in 2019 marked just the second time the program reached double-digit wins in a season in the past decade.

“Largo was known more as a football school,” Taylor said. “We were starting to put the softball and baseball programs somewhere on the map.”

Then came the coronavirus pandemic. Spring sports were initially postponed before being canceled. 

The shutdown was beneficial. It allowed the Layners more time to prepare for Taylor Jr., who  was born March 25.

The Layners and their baby.

“It’s sad for the season to end the way it did , especially for the seniors on both teams,” Taylor said. “Everything happened so quickly. We had so much going on in our lives. This gave us time to really be together. That’s the one positive. It’s a crazy time, something we’ll always remember. When the history books are written 10-15 years from now, we’ll be able to tell our son he entered the world in the middle of all of this.”

The Layners knew what they wanted in a son. Someone who was strong and smart. 

And a sports fanatic. 

The training has already started. Taylor tries to get his son to use his left hand as much as possible, in hopes of developing a left-handed pitcher. The parents are even figuring out potential positions their son could play based on his estimated growth charts.

Taylor Layner Jr.

“Maybe a left-hander or right-hander,” Amanda said. “Maybe a pitcher or middle infielder. We’re athletes. We’re competitive. We want what’s best for our son. But we’ll support him no matter what he decides to do.”

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Baseball

No more fans at Pasco County sporting events after COVID spike

Bob Putnam

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Stock football stadium

Pasco County has decided to limit all athletic activities to students and coaches due to the recent spike in coronavirus cases. 

That means no fans or media members in attendance. 

The new rule starts on Monday and will last until the positivity rate, which has climbed to nine percent, drops to below five percent for a rolling seven-day period. 

In the past two weeks, two county football teams — Wiregrass Ranch and Fivay — had to forfeit playoff games because of a player testing positive for coronavirus and multiple team members and coaches having to quarantine due to contact tracing. 

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Baseball

Signing day roundup

Bob Putnam

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Academy of the Holy Names

Rowing

Grace Cronen: West Virginia

Jessica Reynolds: North Carolina

Softball

INF Rachael Petrarca: Providence

P/INF Belle Sardja: Florida Southwestern

Berkeley Prep

Baseball

P Will Parkinson: Columbia

P Evan Parmer: Virginia Military Institute

Lacrosse

Justyce Barber: William and Mary

Swimming

Amy Wotovich: Harvard

Volleyball

MB Camryn Carlo: Cornell

Bishop McLaughlin

Girls basketball

G Isabella Prada: Rollins

Softball

3B/C Emily Suchan: Enterprise State

Volleyball

OH Audrey Koenig: Florida State

DS/L Adrianna Lopez: Rollins

Calvary Christian

Baseball

RHP Jack Cebert: USF

RHP/OF Tyler Dietz: USF

C/1B/OF Zach Ferlita: Covenant

OF/LHP Charles Stevens: Butler

1B/OF Jackson Unice: Eckerd

Softball

SS/C Leah Jarnac: Duke

C/SS Sam Leski: Florida Gulf Coast

Track and field

Meredith Adams: Texas

Canterbury

Softball

1B/3B Sarah Young: Rollins

Clearwater Central Catholic

Soccer

F/MF Kendall Liermann: Towson

Tennis

Ryan Boland: Loyola Maryland

Emma Fernald: William & Mary

Dunedin

Baseball

OF/1B Marcus Brodil: South Florida

East Lake

Track and field

Anna Cincotta: Florida Atlantic

Jesuit

Baseball

P Dominic Castellano: Central Florida

OF B.J. Graham: Tulane

INF Nick Rodriguez: Charleston Southern

INF/C Cole Russo: Central Florida

P Alden Segui: North Carolina

P Jackson Shembekar: Tampa

P Ryan Skelly: Charleston Southern

P Joey Volini: South Florida

Largo

Girls soccer

Asti Luff: Citadel

Newsome

Softball

C Lydia Castro: South Florida

Olivia Dresser: McDaniel College

P/OF Kaitlyn Felton: Central Florida

1B Jadeyn Ruszkowski: Clemson

Osceola

Softball

UTIL Jayla Brooks: Delaware

Plant

Girls basketball

G Kendal Cheesman: Vanderbilt

G Nyla Jean: Georgia State

Volleyball

OH Erin Morrissey: Maryland

River Ridge

Softball

SS Brooke Blankenship: Florida State

C/UTIL Giulia Desiderio: South Carolina

Sunlake

Softball

OF Kendra Falby: Florida

Tampa Bay Tech

Girls basketball

G Knisha Godfrey: Mississippi State

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Baseball

No test score needed for high school athletes in Class of 2021 to be eligible at D-I or II

Bob Putnam

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The NCAA Eligibility Center announced Monday that high school rising seniors will not be required to take a standardized test to be eligible to play at play at a Division I or II school.

Part of the reason is the difficulty in taking the SAT or ACT during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

”Given the continuing impact of COVID-19, the NCAA membership made this decision with the health and well-being of incoming students top of mind,” NCAA Eligibility Center Vice President Felicia Martin said in a news release. “We understand the uncertainty in the educational environment and believe these changes will help ensure students have a fair opportunity to meet the initial-eligibility standard.”

Here is what the NCAA is requiring at the each of the two levels for high-school athletes in the Class of 2021.

Division I academic eligibility.

Grade point average: 2.3 in 16 NCAA-approved core courses, with 10 core courses (seven in English, math and science) completed by the start of their seventh semester in high school (prior to senior year).

Division II academic eligibility

Grade point average: a 2.2 grade-point average in 16 NCAA-approved core courses.

* International students-athletes enrolling in a Division I or II school during the 2021-22 academic year will be academically eligible if they complete 16 core-course units with at least a 2.3 (DI) or 2.2 (DII) grade-point average in those courses.

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