Senior Andrew Catti was working with his TV production team when a story idea surfaced: after being told the school could not host its annual Powderpuff game due to COVID-19, students from Melbourne High School and Viera High School began advertising their own Powderpuff games across social media.
“Since seventh grade and I saw Powderpuff for the first time I’ve always wanted to do it,” Catti said. “Then junior year came and Powderpuff became my most memorable experience of high school.”
But that memorable experience could not be repeated this year. Senior Savannah Hughes participated in the event during her junior year has her team’s quarterback.
“It makes me really upset that other schools get to enjoy [Powderpuff],” Hughes said. “Powderpuff is something that I’ve looked forward to since seventh grade and it was probably the highlight of my year last year. I feel like us seniors have lost so much already and it’s upsetting that we can’t even have Powderpuff.”
Powderpuff is typically held the week of Homecoming, in the absence of a school football game. Students, parents and teachers fill the soccer field stands to watch the junior class and senior class compete, with girls playing flag football and the boys performing half-time cheer routines.
“[My WCTZ news team] decided to do a story about West Shore not having a Powderpuff,” Catti said. “The most obvious faculty member to interview about that is the decision maker, [Principal Rick] Fleming, so we can broadcast to the students his side of why he decided to not have a Powderpuff.”
Brevard schools are expected to host events under the school district’s designated ‘Path to Yes.’ According to Fleming, the procedure was put in place through student services and the directors of secondary learning to approve events that “have been completely thought through from a safety and security perspective.”
“Powderpuff is unique,” Fleming said. “Every school has a school culture. There’s climate and there’s culture. We do not have a football and baseball team, a wrestling team or a softball team. For us, our Powderpuff game and the ensuing cheer competition is our New Year’s, our Halloween, our Christmas, our Fourth of July, our Easter all wrapped up into one. It pains me that we were unable to do it this year.”
Student disappointment turned to confusion when Melbourne High School and Viera High School advertised their respective Powderpuff events.
“My understanding from the district leadership was that no one was going to do Powderpuff. How Mel High and Viera High got that through district leadership, I can’t answer that,” Fleming said.
Melbourne High’s Powderpuff game was held Friday on the school’s football field.
“In our case we are operating under approval already given for end-of-year senior events,” Melbourne High School Principal James Kirk, said. “Powderpuff is a traditional event for us, so we are proceeding as we have in years past and including appropriate health and safety measures.”
Melbourne High School’s Junior Class president Connor Faherty said Powderpuff games have been at Mel High “for longer than most can remember.” The Junior Class sponsor, Jamie Liesenfelt participated in Powderpuff during her high-school career.
“I can’t speak to how Powderpuff got approved by the district,” Faherty said. “But our administration was very excited about the notion of a Powderpuff game. Our athletic director, [Darrell] Buchanan, has been a huge help in planning the event, as well as our other amazing faculty and staff for supporting the student body.”
Faherty said that all attendees will be expected to wear masks, excluding the players.
“We’re running the event similar to how we’ve run all of our athletic events for the past year, our presentation of the Homecoming court, as well as our faculty-student volleyball game,” Faherty said. “Obviously this year, COVID is in everyone’s mind. We are working to make sure that we are doing everything we can to make every day as safe as possible.”
While Fleming said he was “at a loss for words” when he heard Powderpuff games were at other schools, he said he hopes the schools are safe. Powderpuff at West Shore currently is in the plans for next school year.
“I’m not against [other schools’] perspective,” Fleming said. “But in the judge and jury and as someone who runs the safety and security of students, I felt it important to stick with the plan that we had and not put students in jeopardy or danger.”
Superintendent Mark Mullins, Christine Moore, Melinda Maynard and Stephanie Soliven did not respond to questions for this story.