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Palm Beach Post (Florida)
By Anthony Chiang Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Benjamin's baseball team doesn't mind traveling for a good game. But the Buccaneers have never had to go too far to play its district schedule.

District realignment has changed that, as Benjamin was moved to District 13-3A with Melbourne-Florida Air, Melbourne Central Catholic, John Carroll from Fort Pierce and St. Edward's from Vero Beach in the offseason. The Buccaneers are the only team from Palm Beach County in the district.

After being required to travel up to 17 miles to play a district game last season, Benjamin is forced to travel as much as 101 miles to play a district game this season. This change has translated into higher transportation costs.

"Either way, we are transporting our student-athletes to an away competition. But there's a difference," Benjamin Athletic Director Ryan Smith said. "There's only a set amount of money and you can only use that amount. It's money that could have been used elsewhere."

Enrollment at Benjamin has held steady at around 430 students over the last five years, but the baseball team has been reassigned to different districts three times in the past five years. In 2010 and 2011, the Buccaneers (6-7) were part of Class 2A, and they have played in Class 3A since 2012.

There are five baseball teams from Palm Beach County in Class 3A, and each one -- except Benjamin -- is part of District 14-3A, which is a seven-team district that also includes three teams from Broward County.

"We know the FHSAA tries to do the best that they can to even districts out as far as number of teams in each district, while also being cognizant of the geographical distribution," Smith said. "But the reality is that Florida is a big state and it's an oddly shaped state. That makes it difficult especially with schools our size."

According to FHSAA spokesman Corey Sobers, classification is generally completed by first separating the schools by enrollment. Second, the FHSAA places the schools in districts based on geography and balance in terms of the number of schools in the districts.

An appeal process is available to schools that have concerns about their classification, but the Buccaneers have not appealed their district assignment.

Instead, Benjamin has done as much as possible to accommodate its student-athletes.

Following a road game against Florida Air on Thursday, the Buccaneers returned to Palm Beach Gardens at 11 p.m. The 101-mile bus ride took 90 minutes to complete, forcing administrators to allow baseball players to start school at 9 a.m. instead of 8 a.m. the next day.

"It's tough, but our school helps us out," said Benjamin pitcher Bennett Sousa, who is committed to Virginia. "They let us come in an hour later than usual on those days that we get back late."

Benjamin has not had to stay at a hotel for one of its district games yet, but the team has not ruled it out.

The District 13-3A tournament is scheduled to be hosted by Florida Air, which could force Benjamin to play games in Melbourne on consecutive days. The Buccaneers are considering a hotel for this scenario.

"You have to get kids potentially out of school early and they get back late at night. There are also budgetary implications," Smith said. "But more importantly, it puts academic stress on the kids because it takes longer to get there and longer to get home."

Still, the Buccaneers believe there are some positives that can come out of the situation.

"At Benjamin, we pride ourselves on getting our players ready for what they're going to see at the collegiate level," Buccaneers coach Brian Kaplan said. "We are going to make every game as challenging as we can and force these guys to battle through it." Twitter: @Anthony_Chiang


March 20, 2014




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