Florida’s two most northwest counties are striking different paths to complete postseason competition in high school sports like volleyball, swimming and golf this fall.
Santa Rosa County programs are expecting the option to opt in for a traditional district-regional-state postseason format by the FHSAA’s Sept. 18 State Series deadline.
Escambia County public schools, however, are expected to uniformly opt out, sacrificing FHSAA state tournament pursuits for an extended season and a shot at an inaugural, and perhaps only, county championship.
“For all sports, the state gave us an option to extend the season, and that’s what we’ve done,” Escambia County athletic director Roger Mayo said. “We’ve given them the option to play beyond the district tournaments so they can get at least 75-80 percent of their season completed.”
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Fall sports competition is expected to begin locally on Sept. 18 with high school football. Volleyball tri-match tournaments are on several local schedules for the following day as the rest of the fall sports slate returns to action.
For Santa Rosa County schools like Gulf Breeze, Pace or Jay — as well Escambia County private school Pensacola Catholic — the deadline will commence a 22-day volleyball regular season ahead of the FHSAA’s district-tournament start dates on Oct. 12-16.
For those with aspirations of competing at the district, region and state level, it’s an opportunity too good to let slip by.
“We’ll be playing four nights a week, most weeks,” Jay volleyball head coach Carey Locklin said. “Just to get some games in for them. We’re just happy to possibly have a chance to play in the State Series if we don’t get shut down.
“The girls and I just felt that even if our season has to be shortened and we only play 10 games or whatever, we were really sweating not being able to play for a district championship or beyond.”
In Escambia County, schools will have a much longer season in advance of the proposed county championship, which Mayo said would likely be around the week of Nov. 2.
With district travel recommendations making state tournament play — typically contested in Central and South Florida — less feasible, Mayo said early plans included a “conference” featuring neighboring Northwest Florida counties.
Once that fell through, however, Mayo said he “took care of our people” to ensure the best possible fall 2020 season.
“For so many of our schools, if we hadn’t done this, they’d have played nine games, a district tournament and then gone home,” Mayo said. “When they could’ve played a 25-game schedule. We’ve provided the means to play a lot more games and for some people playing games is the most important part.”
It was admittedly a difficult blow for those in Escambia County programs with state aspirations, though that is likely far from the majority. It has been at least a decade since an Escambia County public school advanced in the first round of the FHSAA volleyball state tournament.
A solution mixing more playing time, crucial particularly for non-club players, and a new aspirational trophy could prove the compromise solution for the unusual challenges of 2020.
“It’s tough because that’s the ultimate goal for high school is to win state,” Booker T. Washington volleyball head coach Josh Steele said. “You want to be state champs. At the same time, that would’ve really abbreviated our season. And what we’re doing now, the girls will at least be able to get on the court and play.”
The Pensacola News Journal coverage area encompasses Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. Eric J. Wallace can be reached at [email protected] or 850-525-5087.