Pandemic shakes up fall sports

Gavin Litchfield, Sports Editor

In a year where it seems almost everything is banned, it might come as a surprise that the fall sports season ever happened. While the Florida High School Athletic Association gave a return to sports a green-light, new rules and regulations had to be put in place for the safety of the participants. Those protocols included mandatory temperature checks before any participation and enforced social distancing among teammates. And the most controversial rules of all: the requirement to wear face masks at all times except during vigorous workouts.

Swim coach Kyle Berry called the new regulations a necessary evil.

“I do not believe that the regulations are too strict,” Berry said. “Our job as coaches is to protect our student-athletes, now more than ever. Regulations can always be relaxed as things change.”

Berry added that the changes exposed improved ways to run practices brought about by social-distancing requirements.

In order to abide by the social-distancing rule we will have four swimmers in each lane, two on each side of the pool,” Berry said. “During a normal year we have six to eight in a lane, however I have found that four per lane gives the swimmers much more practice space. I may even continue this practice when we are back to normal.”

Although Gov. Ron Desantis has been cutting back guidelines, sports teams have been shut down for not following rules set by the district. The school district in coordination with the Brevard Department of Health has placed Melbourne and Merritt Island high school football teams in quarantine for not following regulations, resulting in a surge of positive cases. In addition, all Eau Gallie High School sports were temporarily suspended when BPS closed the school for a week due to an uptick in exposures.

Other COVID-19 impact included limited capacity for meets and games, a shorter season and reduced junior varsity opportunities.  But junior cheerleader Ashley Hilmes decided to make the best out of the situation. 

“The changes do not ruin the season for me,” Hilmes said. “I am just happy to be able to do my sports.”

Because some team members attend school each day while others learn from home, less time is available for building chemistry through sharing time together.

“The team aspect has remained as strong as ever,” said senior Layla Auter, who is captain of the swim team. “However, I definitely miss seeing the team outside of the pool, and as a captain, it’s a huge bummer because I love seeing these guys. Sadly it’s been hard to meet all of the new swimmers and really get to know them, but this team is so supportive and caring.” 

That separation becomes even more frustrating when an athlete must quarantine .  Junior cross-country runner Alex Hilmes missed two weeks due to COVID-19 exposure despite testing negative himself.

“It ripped a hole through my season,” Hilmes said. “It’s a lot harder and more boring running without the team. My quarantine period definitely negatively affected my season.”