Miami Northwestern Bulls

Miami Northwestern Bulls. 

As we continue with schools reopening while adapting to the new guidelines, everyone wants to know: When will high school sports begin again in South Florida?

There were no spring jamboree games this year and fall preconditioning was supposed to start Aug. 31, which was the first day of distance learning in Miami-Dade County. Here, high school football is top tier and the anticipation to begin playing again continues to rise, especially when you have 7 out of 8 state champion teams looking to defend their titles from last year.

It took several meetings to even get to this point of actual preconditioning for fall sports. First and foremost, safety is the main concern for student athletes during the pandemic. Schools needed to be cautious with the infection rate hovering near 10%.

Former Booker T. Washington head coach Ben Hanks, who was recently appointed as a board member of the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA), looks to make the best informed decision as it relates to South Florida and the state when it comes to high school athletics. During an Aug. 14 board meeting, Hanks' first, he said “I just hope we are on the right side of history.”

The FHSAA faced statewide backlash from coaches, athletic directors and even superintendents when it postponed the start of practices until at least Aug. 24. The vote was approved 11-5.

Further delay was approved for schools in hot spots such as Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Monroe counties that were not ready to begin practice safely for FHSAA-member schools to put together their own athletic calendar. Schools also have the option to opt out of the FHSAA state championship series by Sept. 18. The earliest game date for football in all classifications is Sept. 4.

Getting back to playing football is particularly important to senior year athletes looking to make the All-County teams, rack up numerous accolades and even change their life trajectory by earning a college scholarship. Hanks, who attended the University of Florida, stated that “As a former high school student-athlete and a coach in the urban core, I took advantage of football and the opportunity it provided me to go to college, so I know how important football is as an opportunity for seniors who use [it] as an outlet.”

When asked about the recent appointment of Hanks to the FHSAA board, Dr. Steve Gallon, who is the Miami-Dade County Public Schools board vice-chair, said “It is important to have someone that reflects the urban core that is from the area, coached in the area and served in the area.”

Whether having local representation on the FHSAA board will be enough to keep Miami-Dade in the FHSAA is up for debate.

Gallon believes the damage has been done. At the FHSAA board meeting in July, members voted to start the fall season without any delays, even as COVID-19 raged in Florida. This action prompted School Board Agenda Item H-9, which was proffered by Gallon on Aug. 12. The item called for the exploration of a withdrawal of M-DCPS from the FHSAA. The item received unanimous approval and cosponsorship from chairwoman Perla Tabares Hantman, Dr. Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall, Susie Castillo, Dr. Lawrence Feldman, Dr. Marta Pérez and Maria Teresa Rojas.

“I appreciate the support of my colleagues and their recognition of the value of our district reexamining the role and relationship of the FHSAA, and exploring alternate and innovative means to support interscholastic sports in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools,” said Gallon. “This is a critical first step in us ensuring that we consider the most appropriate, prudent and beneficial pathway to protect and provide for high quality, competitive and equitable athletic programs for our district, schools and most importantly, our students – now and for the future.”

Passage of H-9 allows the M-DCPS superintendent to review all elements of the current relationship between M-DCPS and the FHSAA, while considering alternate partnerships with other school districts or entities that may promote a different structure for interscholastic sports. Collaboration with state legislators would be necessary to review current Florida statute regarding interscholastic sports in the state and the feasibility of developing a newly established association.