Column: Coronavirus won’t keep prep teams off field – for now

  • Head softball coaches Karen Baker of Crescent City, left, and Ron Whitehurst of Interlachen chat with one another during the All-Putnam County Tournament last Friday at Palatka High School. (MARK BLUMENTHAL / Palatka Daily News)
    Head softball coaches Karen Baker of Crescent City, left, and Ron Whitehurst of Interlachen chat with one another during the All-Putnam County Tournament last Friday at Palatka High School. (MARK BLUMENTHAL / Palatka Daily News)

The encouraging word has come down from on high: Unless discouraging word comes down from on higher, the games are going on for Putnam County schools.

There are no plans to suspend or cancel high school baseball, softball, track, tennis or weightlifting in the wake of the coronavirus scare that has gripped the sports world in the past few days, resulting in the suspension of the NBA and NHL seasons and the cancellation of March Madness, among many other things.

The reasoning for going forward with the high school events is simple, safe and sound: The events are outdoors (with the exception of weightlifting, which only attracts a handful of people beyond the participants) and the youthful competitors are not considered to be at high risk.

The situation could change, of course, and the Putnam School District is staying in close contact with the Florida High School Athletic Association.

“We’re waiting for the FHSAA to set guidelines like the NCAA has made. Being spring sports and outdoors, it’s going to be a little less concerning,” school superintendent Rick Surrency said Thursday. “I don’t think we have anyone competing out of state, sports-wise. As for now, it’s business as usual.”

Not so in neighboring Marion County, which Thursday suspended all prep sports for the next 12 days (through its spring break), according to Interlachen High athletic director Ron Whitehurst.

A link on the FHSAA web site dated March 10 reads as follows: “Per the advice of the (Centers for Disease Control), the FHSAA advises all member schools to communicate with local health departments for updates and recommendations relating to each schools local area.  The FHSAA will continue to closely monitor Florida Health’s updates and notices and take swift action if deemed necessary by the Florida Department of Health.”

n The St. Johns River State College baseball team is pressing on during a difficult start to Mid-Florida Conference play (15-15, 2-4) not only without injured .400 hitter J.J. Sousa, who is out for the year, but without valued assistant coach Cory Elasik, who left to become a minor league hitting instructor with the San Francisco Giants after four years with Jones and the Vikings.

“I’m thrilled for him. It’s a great career opportunity for him,” Jones said. “I understand at our level we’re not going to keep assistant coaches for long. Year one they’re making mistakes, year two they’re figuring it out, year three they’re gone.

“I loved his energy. It’s really tough when you lose a guy three and a half weeks into the season but for Cory, you can’t help the timing. I told him you’ve got to do what’s best for yourself.”

Elasik’s main duties with St. Johns were hitting and recruiting. The Vikings will complete the season with Jones and one full-time assistant, former Putnam County Player of the Year Joe Pound.

n The Putnam County baseball and softball tournaments completed last weekend deserve to go on, even though the games were hardly suspenseful this time.

Three of the four baseball games were no-hitters, the ironic exception being Palatka’s 27-0 rout of Peniel Baptist Academy in which the Warriors managed a single in the fourth and final inning. Even so, there was a sense of anticipation before the Palatka-Interlachen final until the Panthers’ Layton DeLoach took over with his 15-strikeout masterpiece.

The softball games were not close, either. The Panthers won the de facto championship game 5-0 over Interlachen but the outcome was never in doubt as Palatka’s Amy Kennedy took a no-hitter into the seventh before the Rams’ Sierra Boynton doubled down the left field line.

But keep playing, folks.

There will be years the outcomes will be in doubt. Crescent City is rebuilding in baseball and softball, Peniel in baseball and Peniel’s Final Four-caliber softball team is going forward with injured pitching ace Paige Bryan forced to play elsewhere.

Each year is different. Let them play each year. The county tournament does not take that big a bite out of the schedule.

Andy Hall is sports editor of the Palatka Daily News.