JUPITER, Fla. — As some Palm Beach County students get ready to head back to campus next week, it also means a slow return to fall sports.
However, some athletes said the current plan from the School District of Palm Beach County robs them of critical points in their season.
Last week, the school district's athletic department presented a plan to the school board that outlined the phased return of athletics. Read the presentation by clicking here.
The plan takes Palm Beach County fall sports teams out of the running for the typical state series with the Florida High School Athletic Association and instead groups them into a tri-county championship with Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Miami-Dade and Broward have not yet started in-person classes.
"In order for us to prepare fairly, adequately, and equitably across our 24 high schools, for all of them to be ready, we would need to opt out of the state series," Valerie Miyares, the athletic manager for the School District of Palm Beach County, told school board members last week.
Coaches and athletes in cross country said the current plan takes them farther away from their goals.
Michael Holtrup is a senior on the cross country team at Jupiter High School. He is laced up and ready to run.
"I've been training a lot and I'm just ready to get back to normal, pretty much, just running cross country, going to school," Holtrup said. "It's been tough because we haven't been able to have a regular-season schedule. We probably won't have as many meets as usual [because of the coronavirus]."
Under the plan presented last week, fall sports will not begin practicing until at least next week when in-person classes begin on Monday, Sept. 21.
The first cross country meet would be the week of Oct. 5, which is after two of the biggest invitational meets of the season, according to Jupiter High School boys cross country coach Franci Jefferson.
"Two big invitationals that almost everyone goes to and a lot of college coaches come to are Florida Runners Invitational, which is Sept. 26. That's in Lakeland, and the other one is the Florida State Invitational, which is the weekend after," Jefferson said. "Where our season starts now, we can't even go to those. They're not even in our season, and that's not fair to the kids who are looking at moving on into FHSAA."
Jefferson believes individual sports like cross country should be treated differently that football, instead of opting out of FHSAA for all fall sports.
"We don't need to be with Dade and Broward. We need to be able to still compete in the FHSAA," Jefferson said. "We can go ahead and compete without having to wait and still be in FHSAA system rather than the South Florida system. I understand why football is doing that, but I don't understand why the rest of us are being forced to not be in FHSAA."
Normally, Jefferson's team would be in about two meets a week at this point in the season, but right now they have not even started practice.
"My kids have been working out since May," Jefferson said. "I sent weekly workouts for them and they're doing it, and once in a while I'll have them to a time trial so I know who is doing the workouts and who is not. The kids who have been really diligent and who are really good in the sport are already in shape. It's not like we start Sept. 21 with nothing. It's kind of sad, especially these kids, because they are the distance runners in track and we lost our track season, so this is their second season being disrupted by things that are out of their control. But we could also be competing in a different way than what the football players do."
Jefferson said the top runner on her team transferred to another county so he could compete in the state series. She just wants her team to have the same shot as everyone else.
"I have four seniors who have been with me or been running for four years and they wanted a chance to try to make it to states," Jefferson said. "They wanted to try to get to that regional competition, and if it doesn't change, they don't have the opportunity. They wouldn't get scholarships, but it might get them into a first-choice school because they are good enough to get on the team."