The North Fort Myers football team will not be playing Dallas, Texas-based Triple A Academy, which is coached by North alum Deion Sanders, after all.
Red Knights football coach Earnest Graham and North Fort Myers principal Debbie Diggs confirmed the cancellation of the preseason classic game Wednesday.
Diggs and Graham, along with Red Knights athletic director Joe Bowen, were notified on Friday by Triple A Academy that its athletic association, the University Interscholastic League, would not release the team to travel to Fort Myers for the game at Moody Field on Aug. 18.
“They were waiting to get approval from their athletic association,” Diggs said. “On Friday they called. We haven’t been able to get approval. So they won’t be able to come. It’s hard for a high school team to travel so far out of state. Both coaches are disappointed.”
When deciding whether to release Triple A Academy for the game in Fort Myers, UIL referenced its own rule book, league representative Chris Schmidt said by email Wednesday.
Ultimately, he said, it was a simple decision. Under guidelines presented in the governing body’s football plan, no organized game could be played until August 25. “UIL rules stipulate that no high school interschool game shall be allowed until the last Thursday in August (which would be the 25th),” Schmidt wrote.
On Monday and Tuesday, Diggs said, Bowen worked to find a replacement game for North Fort Myers. However, those options were limited based on the short notice.
North Fort Myers was unable to schedule a replacement game, Diggs said.
“I wouldn’t say we’re disappointed,” Graham said. “We were working really hard to get something done to bring Deion back here. (Triple A Academy) just wasn’t able to get it approved in time. We’re going to try to work something out to get him back here in the future.”
Left without a preseason classic game, North will set it sights on its season opener Aug. 26 at Riverdale.
“For us, it’s just a matter of preparing for what’s on the table,” Graham said. “That’s what we’ve always been about. My first year we didn’t have a preseason game and you never know whether those games will get in with weather and everything. We have a very tough game against Riverdale coming up so we’re focusing on that.”
As a result, it also has other impacts. It erased the possibility of a large ticket gate created by the celebrity showcase game.
“It left some revenue that could have come into the school,” Diggs said. “But most schools don’t have an event like that in the first place. There’s been no year where anyone has done that. We’re anticipating the same revenue as we would get any other year. It’s not going to have a negative impact on our athletic program.”
While the game will not be rescheduled for 2016, Diggs said she hopes both schools can work out another opportunity to play down the road.
Graham, who spoke to a disappointed Sanders Friday, said the sides will attempt to schedule a game as soon as next season.
The game would have marked a reunion of sorts for Sanders, who is one of the city’s most famous athletes after successful years at Florida State and a Hall-of-Fame NFL career.
Triple A Academy is a charter school that operates under the umbrella of FOCUS Academies in Dallas, Texas.
Sanders was named chief marketing officer for FOCUS Academies and head football coach for Triple A Academy in 2015.
News-Press reporter Adam Regan contributed to this report