Fla. athletes, community eager for return to action following Hurricane Irma: 'It's a way out'

Fla. athletes, community eager for return to action following Hurricane Irma: 'It's a way out'

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Fla. athletes, community eager for return to action following Hurricane Irma: 'It's a way out'

Before Hurricane Irma had even reached Florida, Estero High football coach Jeff Hanlon was worried how bad fall weather was — once again — hurting not only Southwest Florida teams and athletics budgets but kids trying to earn college scholarships.

It’s only gotten worse since Irma has come and gone.

With many schools damaged and some still being used as shelters, Lee and Collier schools will not resume until Monday, Sept. 25, meaning local football teams could lose as many as three games because of the storm that struck on Sunday, Sept. 10.

When combined with washed out games the opening week of the season for some schools, there are teams looking at 10-game schedules cut nearly in half.

While minimal compared to the upheaval many families and communities are enduring, the lost games in football and fellow fall sports volleyball, swimming, cross country, golf and bowling aren’t meaningless.

“When you get into a tragedy like this I think people understand that’s not a priority,” said Estero athletic director Don Payne, who is dealing with a collapsed sea wall and several massive, downed trees at his home.

“But I’ll be glad to see them go back, because that’ll be a great outlet for everyone. We can get some games going. I think that would make everyone feel we’ll get past this.”

Because of varying damage statewide, the Florida High School Athletic Association left decisions when to return to practice and competition to individual districts.

Where facilities could be verified as safe, the Lee County School District permitted teams to resume practices Friday, with the reminder to be cautious with conditioning because students had been out of action more than a week.

“We’re obviously being very supportive of anybody that has issues first,” said Fort Myers High football coach Sam Sirianni Jr., who had all but 5-6 players on hand for light running and weight sessions Friday morning.

“But at the same time, kids need to get a little normalcy. They were excited to be back out there.”

Because next Friday, Sept. 22, is a teacher work day, some schools also are checking on the possibility they may be able to play games starting that night.

That would alleviate some of the pressure to try to reschedule as many lost games as possible in the six remaining weeks of the regular season — a greater necessity this year with a new statewide postseason qualification process that measures non-district games as well as district contests.

“Clearly it’s secondary to the real issues of life. But there’s all kinds of factors,” said Sirianni, noting help he’s directed his players to offer in their own communities and to continue providing next week even after they continue morning workouts.

“You can do both. You can still be cognizant of the ones that need help and are struggling but give (players) an outlet and a release.”

ort Myers, which was slated to play a decades-old rivalry game Sept. 22 at Charlotte, and North Fort Myers, which is off to a 2-0 start, practiced Friday. But schools farther east in Lee and Collier counties are nowhere close to doing so.

Immokalee, which was supposed to host fellow District 5A-12 contender Dunbar on Sept. 14, had players who live in trailers lose homes. Most are still without water or power, according to Immokalee graduate and football coach Rodelin Anthony.

“As of right now they’re all in awe,” Anthony said. who’s more concerned with getting his players fed than watching film.

“Before I start practice I’m going to do a show of hands and ask, ‘Who’s eaten?’ We’ll probably just do a walk-through and get them some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.”

Lehigh Senior, which like Estero has played only one football game this season because of weather, was damaged by the storm and is still being used to stage food dropoffs for area residents trapped in their homes by flood waters.

The conditions leave some hoping the FHSAA will extend the regular season, a move the association indicated this week it considered but ruled out.

Problems doing so include impacts on the rest of the sports calendar, starting with winter sports, and state finals venues that already have been reserved.

“In a state of emergency, the FHSAA should be flexible,” Anthony said. “There’s a lot riding (for) some of these kids who are playing for scholarships. These kids need as many opportunities to play as possible.”

North Fort Myers senior quarterback Toby Noland was told by scouts they’d be evaluating him for scholarship consideration the first half of the season.

It’s an important financial possibility for his family — and yet still not as critical as it would be for other players and families.

“It’s a way out,” Noland’s mother, Beth, said of the importance of football to some families. “I just hope they can get it figured out.”

For more, visit the Ft. Myers News-Press

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