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All but Pinellas call off high school sports events

A handful of volleyball matches and one swim meet go on.

By JOHN SCHWARB and BOB PUTNAM

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 12, 2001


CLEARWATER -- Roughly nine hours after terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, Pinellas County athletes swam and played volleyball.

Unlike other school districts around Tampa Bay that canceled all scheduled athletic events, Pinellas County opted to go ahead with its games.

"We're trying to keep the school system as normal as possible. There's a lot of fear and apprehension out there," Pinellas County Schools spokesman Ron Stone said. "These are voluntary participation activities; if students choose not to participate and parents not to attend, we certainly understand."

Superintendent Howard Hinesley made the decision to cancel open houses at various public schools, but four volleyball matches and one swim meet continued as scheduled. All private schools in the county canceled competitions and some also canceled practices.

"I just can't understand (playing)," Lakewood volleyball coach Donna Dicus said before a match at Dunedin. "We might have some kids here tonight that might have relatives or people that were affected by this. I don't think it's helping."

Players paid respect to the victims, observing a moment of silence at Dunedin and gathering in a ring of prayer at Clearwater.

After that, they tried to resume business as usual, but with heavy hearts.

"It was so emotional today," Clearwater senior Kelsey Baby said. "We thought they might cancel the match but we were expecting to play anyway."

For coaches, much of the afternoon was spent on the phone with athletic directors and county officials, trying to determine the status of the evening's events.

Some junior varsity teams, which played earlier in the evening, were at less than full strength with players deciding to stay home.

Clearwater varsity coach Lynn Hallmark worked as an official at the junior varsity match because the scheduled official assumed it would be canceled.

"It was weird, wondering whether we were going to play at all," Countryside coach Kaylyn Bayly said. "Maybe the teams weren't focused. It was just a volleyball match tonight."

Spectators recognized that, and noise levels were somewhat lower than usual for district competition. But many said being there was the right call.

"I think it's a swell idea," said Bill Swenson, parent of a Falcons player. "The terrorists, their idea is to disrupt our way of life and show the world they can do it whenever they want. I think the girls coming out here tonight playing, shows they can't."

Given the probable alternative plans for the evening, some expressed happiness to be away from the news reports that were unavoidable throughout the day.

"It keeps my mind off things," said Lynn Keiser, a St. Petersburg resident working as an official at Dunedin. "I'd just be at home watching TV."

School representatives in Citrus, Hernando, Pasco and Hillsborough counties said canceling events was right.

"Obviously, this is a disaster beyond all that we've seen in our lifetime," Citrus athletic director Vicki Overman said. "Out of respect for the nation, it was definitely appropriate."

Kit Broadbelt, supervisor of Pasco County athletics, was told by superintendent John Long that all after-school events would be canceled. Broadbelt also said that it is possible tonight's games would be canceled.

"I think we need to look at (more cancellations today). I think we need to see how (today) goes," Broadbelt said. "We don't want to cancel anything, but in the overall scope of things an athletic event is pretty far down the (list) of what we need to be addressing."

Hillsborough County athletic director Vernon Korhn said he canceled all public school practices and games on Tuesday, "out of respect for the national tragedy."

Korhn said a decision would be made today on scheduling of games and practices for the rest of the week.

Jesuit was the only Hillsborough County private school to hold practices, but athletic director Sonny Hester said students were given the option to practice.

"If kids wanted to go home for whatever reason, they were allowed to go home," Hester said. "It was totally up to the kids and their families whether to attend practice."

Schools will be open today, and games are expected to go on as scheduled.

- Times staff writers John C. Cotey, Brant James, Keith Niebuhr and Scott Purks contributed to this report.

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