FHSAA to set safety considerations for summer conditioning

The Florida High School Athletic Association board of directors passed a motion to provide COVID-19 safety considerations for student-athletes returning to school campuses for summer conditioning during Tuesday’s video conference meeting. 

FHSAA staff members will work with the Student Medical Advisory Committee (SMAC) to put together those considerations within a week and have them ready to deliver to member schools. 

The state’s organizing body for high school sports also plans to assemble a task force this summer to discuss safety protocols and calendars once practices and games begin in the fall.

What the FHSAA did not formulate was a uniform policy regarding when schools can start summer conditioning. Plant athletic director Lauren Otero, set to be the president of the board this coming school year, said a summer policy should have been in place a month or two ago — before school districts started setting schedules for when athletes could start summer workouts. 

For years, the FHSAA did little to regulate summer workouts. Other than mandating proper paperwork and equipment, the organization leaves workout schedules up to districts and private schools to decide.   

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, school districts have been cautious about when to allow students back on campus to start those workouts. Three area counties, Pinellas, Hernando and Hillsborough, are starting June 15. Pasco is waiting until July 1.  

Many private schools, especially in Pinellas County, have already conducted summer conditioning. Keswick Christian’s first workout was on June 1. Admiral Farragut, Calvary Christian and Clearwater Central Catholic all started on Monday. The disparity has angered some public school coaches, particularly those whose districts or regular season schedules include private schools or teams in other counties.

For other parts of the state, the wait is even longer. Broward and Dade County public schools are still off limit to students because they are dealing with so many outbreaks of COVID-19. The lack of any state guidelines also drew criticism last summer when Middleton incoming freshman Hezekiah B. Walters collapsed and died during a conditioning session with the football program in June of 2019. The family recently reached an agreement with the Hillsborough County school district on a $1-million settlement that has been recommended for approval at Tuesday’s school board meeting.

Once fall sports to cleared to start, football players will be allowed to play in six quarters rather than one game week after a proposal was passed.

This means football players can now participate in junior varsity and varsity games in the same week, a move that will help bolter the development of programs, particularly at the junior varsity level.

For the past few, many area teams have either not fielded a junior varsity squad or struggled to maintain one.

Florida was among just nine states that allowed football players to participate in one game per week. Under the new policy, teams would need a waiver to apply the rule and would have until the Monday of the third week of the regular season to submit one. A program’s history and roster size would factor into the decision for each waiver.

The FHSAA also made policy changes regarding heat safety measures to keep in line with the Zachary Martin Act that was unanimously passed by the Florida Senate three months ago. The biggest changes are the requirements of wet bulb global thermometers and immersion tubs at every school. 

The bill, named after the former Riverdale offensive lineman who died 11 days after collapsing during a summer conditioning session in 2017, still needs to be signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis but that is expected to happen with new measures becoming mandatory on July 1. 

Athletic directors in every area county have either purchased global thermometers and immersion tubs or are in the process of doing so. 

Cooling zones, which include the tubs, are now required. Water breaks are mandatory, too. And if temperatures rise to a certain degree, outdoor practices have to either be canceled or moved indoors. Complicating matters is the typical rise in the temperature on turf fields, which have been installed in four public high schools this spring.