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DeSantis, Curry Push For School Athletics Alongside School Reopenings

DeSantis sitting alongside coaches and Mayor Curry in the arena, UNF signs in the background
Sky Lebron
/
WJCT News
DeSantis sitting alongside Lito Sheppard, Kyler Hall, and Mayor Lenny Curry at the University of North Florida's arena.

As Florida schools are set to begin their academic year in the coming weeks, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry are pushing for school sports to start alongside it. 

“I just think we have to understand that the cancellation of sports has huge effects,” DeSantis said. “And so we don't want to relive that because I think that it would be depriving our students of opportunity.” 

At a Thursday press conference at the University of North Florida’s Arena, DeSantis was joined by Curry, Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, along with notable former athletes and current coaches, including Charlie Ward, Eugene Lamb, Lito Sheppard and Kyler Hall.

The push for school athletics comes a day after the NCAA announced it would be canceling its fall sports championships for Division II and Division III athletics. Division I athletics has yet to make an official announcement on fall athletics. 

“Without a vaccine, we've got to learn to live with this in a safe way, and it's incumbent upon us adults that are making these decisions to find a way to give parents and kids this choice,” Curry said. 

Curry said it’s his expectation that high school sports will begin on schedule in Duval County. 

The coaches who spoke each made their own argument for why sports should return alongside in-person classes. 

“I just do believe that if this would have happened during my time, we would have found a way to continue to get together in some form or fashion,” said Ward, a former Heisman Trophy Winner and NBA player who is now a high school basketball head coach in Tallahassee. 

“I've talked to coaches across the state, where in their towns, whether it's a small town or a big city, that they've seen crime rates go up,” said Kyler Hall, a football coach in Suwannee County. “They've seen trouble that is starting to take place because there's nothing structured, or [there] hasn't been nothing structured for these kids to do.” 

Commissioner Corcoran said the consequences of not having sports would be abundant.

“Student athletes' GPAs are higher. Student athletes’ graduation rates are higher, student athletes' attendance rates are higher on every single level, not to mention all those things that they're coached and taught. Strategy, teamwork, letting a teammate down, having the pressure of a shot or a play. All of those things teach them life lessons,” he said.

Ultimately, the Florida High School Athletic Association determines how fall sports will start for the majority of schools in the state. On Wednesday, a committee of Athletic Directors discussed different options for beginning practices, including starting on August 24, or pushing it as far back as late November. 

DeSantis said he would like to see high schools implement the same safety protocols that he’s seen in European countries with soccer.

“If somebody develops symptoms, they isolate them, they will test them. If they're negative, obviously, when the symptoms resolve, they go back. If they're positive, you have the medical guidance, I think now is 10 days after [being] free of symptoms, you go back, and so I would just approach it that way,” DeSantis said. 

DeSantis also said if an athlete develops symptoms or tests positives, it doesn’t mean the season is halted. 

“What I would not do is just if one person gets ill, and they're isolated, and they test [positive], to then shut down everything else. I mean, I think if everyone else is fine, you gotta just keep going,” DeSantis said. 

The governor mentioned once again that younger individuals are less likely to suffer severe coronavirus symptoms, a notion he’s brought up as the summer season nears an end and schools plan reopenings. 

“I think that these athletes will probably be amongst the very, very top to be able to fight off the virus,” DeSantis said. “So we should just understand what the actual risks are.”

Regarding kids bringing the virus back home to their family members, DeSantis said that is something to “take note of”, and it should be a “a family-specific decision.” 

“What I wouldn't want to do is say, ‘Well there’s a concern with multi generational housing, therefore, let's not let anybody, you know, compete in sports.’ That wouldn't be the right answer,” DeSantis said. 

Because of travel considerations due to the pandemic, many college football conferences are deciding to only play teams within their conference. That would mean Florida and Florida State wouldn’t play their annual football rivalry game for the first time since 1957. 

“I just think it would be something that would be good for the state if we could get it done,” DeSantis said.

Sky Lebron can be reached at slebron@wjct.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.