Saturday, November 18, 2017
Sports

Soggy season takes toll on area football teams

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The cracks heard on Tampa Bay Tech High's football field the past three weeks are not from shoulder pads but thunder. Nearly every afternoon the Titans had to seek shelter from pummeling winds and rain along with flashes of lightning.

TBT coach Jayson Roberts said his team has had four practices in the past four weeks. The Titans have played only one game — a 35-12 season-opening loss to nationally-ranked Armwood — that took five days and two postponements to complete because of weather-related issues.

"We've been rained out, lightninged out and hurricaned out," said Roberts, who is in his seventh season as coach. "The kids have spent most of the past month either watching film or lifting weights. I've never seen anything like it."

The latest interruption to the schedule was the most serious.

Roberts tracked Hurricane Irma's uncertain path. He boarded up his house in Temple Terrace. Once the storm passed, he drove by the school, assessing the damage. Aside from standing water and some debris, the field — and the school — were in good shape.

The same scenario has played out across the bay area as football programs made major scheduling alterations to deal with weather problems ranging from consistent lightning to a Category 1 hurricane.

Public schools in the four area counties (Hernando, Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas) canceled school through the week, meaning no Friday night football. No official date has been set to make up those lost games.

"It's been tough," East Lake coach Bob Hudson said. "I haven't really seen my players since Wednesday (Sept. 6) and I have no idea when we'll be able to get back on the field."

Administrators also have been affected by the storms.

Pinellas County athletic director Al Bennett had to seek shelter from Hurricane Irma at St. Petersburg High, where he was principal for 11 years before taking over his new role this summer.

Bennett, who lives in downtown St. Petersburg, stayed in the shelter for 50 hours, from Saturday night until Monday afternoon. He spent the week getting input from coaches on what would work best in rescheduling games.

The weather delays have caused other problems, too.

Canceled games mean less revenue for schools that rely on the money to fund other programs.

"It's been a headache, big time," said Bishop McLaughlin athletic director Jeff Swymer, who evacuated to St. Augustine but didn't escape the storm's reach. "The bigger part is that each year we budget a certain amount and with all of these delays it has killed our gate. We've had games canceled or delayed, and you're unsure if you can get that back.''

Shorecrest has played less than one half of football this season. The Chargers' game against Bradenton Christian was called due to weather before halftime. The second game against Daytona Beach Warner Christian was canceled.

"Hey, we're undefeated," Shorecrest coach Steve Dudley said.

Shorecrest was luckier than most, with the school planning to reopen on Thursday. Dudley said this week's game vs. Bradenton St. Stephen's will be played — either Friday or Saturday.

When the games are played matters little to the players, so long as they are played.

"My players keep calling and texting," Roberts said. "All they want to know is when they can play again. It means so much to them. They spend so much in the offseason preparing for these games and there are so few of them that each one is precious."

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