Teams return to practice for the sake of athletes
By JOHN C. COTEY, JAMAL THALJI and STEVE LEE
© St. Petersburg Times,
It is a far, far different world today than the one we are used to.
But in Pasco County, athletic life strived to return to some semblance of normalcy as athletes and coaches at all levels -- college, high school and middle school -- returned to practice and competition across the county Wednesday.
"We met (Tuesday) morning and we decided we're going to try to get back on the normal track for the sake of creating a healing atmosphere," Pasco County athletic director Kit Broadbelt said.
"The main reason we're not (canceling) is we really feel that for the student-athletes, they need something. And we've had more calls not to cancel than we've had to cancel. I think kids can only take so much; they have to have a diversion."
Broadbelt said all of the county's coaches have been advised to be more sensitive in their coaching and teaching methods.
"We asked the coaching staffs to be very sensitive to the needs of athletes," Broadbelt said. "This is not a time to play hardball with your kids."
Most coaches agree with the county's stance, echoing Broadbelt's sentiment.
"I think (playing) helps everybody take their mind off things a little bit," Mitchell cross country coach Bill Napolitano said. "We had practice at 6:30 a.m. (Wednesday), and basically everybody showed up, and those that didn't I wouldn't hold it against them. I think the president made the call for us: we need to get on with our lives and keep striving forward."
Though many colleges have canceled games this weekend, and many more -- as well as the NFL and Major League Baseball -- are considering doing the same, Pasco County football coaches embraced leaving Friday's prep slate intact.
"They can move their season, we can't," Land O'Lakes football coach John Benedetto said. "We have a time limit so we don't run into the winter sports. I don't see where we can make (a canceled game) up."
Mitchell athletic director Ian Mooney said it's a fine line the county is walking: playing or mourning. But his football coach, Scott Schmitz, thinks they owe it to the players and those that perished to play Friday.
"The con is maybe some people feel this is a lack of respect to the situation, but I don't think that is the case and the president has come on TV and come on a number of times talking about not changing our ways of life," Schmitz said.
"Going out and playing on Friday, I hope that sends out a message this stuff that is happening will not change our ways of life. I think you have to go on. Not to make light of the tragedy, but you can't let people come in and dictate what you do. I really applaud the president for saying those things; I think it's the right thing for our county."
The two local colleges, Pasco-Hernando Community and Saint Leo, also resumed play and practice Wednesday and intend to play scheduled soccer and volleyball games this weekend.
"Are we going to sit in our dorm rooms and hide all day and not go out?" athletic director and men's soccer coach Fran Reidy said.
"That's not going to happen. If you're going (to participate in sports) you're going to try to do your best in whatever it is."
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