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County left to scramble with storm

The decision to cancel would be costly, but how to reschedule? That's what faces officials and coaches now.

JOHN C. COTEY and BOB PUTNAM
Published September 4, 2004

The bleachers vibrated, and the ground shook under the feet of hundreds of stomping, screaming kids crammed into the stadium for a Thursday afternoon pep rally at Tarpon Springs.

The students were celebrating the start of the football season against neighboring rival East Lake.

With the biggest game of the season at home, Tarpon Springs administrators trumpeted school spirit to get a bigger crowd for the game. Thursday's pep rally was scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. There was a dunking booth, a barbecue stand and a pickup truck painted blue and silver that students were allowed to smash.

Then came the phone call from Pinellas County Activities director Walter Weller that Friday's football games were postponed because of the threat Hurricane Frances posed to the area.

"That took a little bit of the excitement out of the festivities," Tarpon Springs athletic director Wayne McKnight said.

Now, McKnight is hoping the game isn't a complete wash.

Hurricane Frances took out Friday's slate, but Weller plans on putting them back on Pinellas County's schedule.

After a feverish day of meetings and more planned next week, Weller said Friday he thinks most, if not all, of the 16 county games canceled will eventually be made up.

But how he plans on doing it might leave the county's coaches a bit hesitant, as a strong possibility exists that teams may have to play three games in a seven- or eight-day span.

"I don't think that's the best solution," Osceola coach George Palmer said. "Three games in eight days, I don't know about that. We want to play and will play anywhere, anytime to make them up, but that would cause some concern."

The best option, according to most coaches, was to make up the games Tuesday, but Weller said when the word came down Thursday afternoon that the games were off, there was not enough time to reschedule.

Weller also said there was an appeal made to the Florida High School Athletics Association to extend the season one week and allow the games to be completed in what would be Week 11. But that was rejected because its impact on rescheduling playoff games.

Weller said his plan, which he will pitch to athletic directors and coaches early next week, involves making this week's games up on a Tuesday, then moving the regularly scheduled game to Saturday.

That Tuesday could even come after the regular season ends, but would almost certainly be rejected by playoff-bound teams, who then would have two days to prepare for their postseason opener.

"Three games in eight days is a lot, but the coaches I talked said they really want to make these games up," he said. "They want to play."

Weller said he will meet with coaches and principals Tuesday to discuss plans, and said a final decision will be made by Thursday.

"I'm optimistic we can get these games in," he said.

The county stands to lose roughly $100,000 from gate revenue if the games are not made up. According to Tarpon Springs coach Don Davis, $20,000 of it would be from his team's game against archrival East Lake.

"That's always the biggest money game for the county, all season," Davis said. "I don't know how they can just let that game go away."

Week 1 featured other rivalry games - Seminole vs. Largo and Clearwater vs. Countryside - games Weller estimated would bring in $15,000-20,000 apiece.

"We want to play our opening game against Seminole," Largo coach Rick Rodriguez said. "That's a big gate for us because of the long-standing rivalry. It would be hard to play three games in a week, but we'd like to have that game."

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