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Naples Daily News (Florida)
Lightning storms across Southwest Florida wreaked havoc on the first night of high school football Friday. The effects, both good and bad, of the weather on area teams could last longer than one preseason game.
Some teams waited out lengthy delays. Some played into Saturday morning. Others didn't even get started.
Coaches whose teams played were thankful to get their games in. Those who had their games canceled have extra work before the start of the regular season Friday.
"I think not having a preseason game really hurts," Barron Collier coach Dan Pallante said. "We have several kids that are playing new positions and they need game reps. … Unfortunately for us we're going to see first-game mistakes against Braddock that could have been fixed Friday against Lemon Bay."
Barron Collier's home game against Lemon Bay was one of four area games canceled Friday. Lightning also erased games for First Baptist, Marco Island Academy and South Fort Myers.
Though preseason games don't count toward playoff berths, teams use the exhibitions as dress rehearsals for the regular season. With the cancellations, Friday's Week 1 games will be the first time those teams see live action since their late-May spring games.
"Preseason is always good to get the jitters out," South coach Grant Redhead said. "It allows you to look at the adjustments you made over the summer. Without (the preseason game), the first time you see kids in action is when it really counts. It's going to be trial by fire."
Luckily, teams won't play any district games, which are the only ones that count toward making the playoffs, for a few weeks.
Losing a game also has financial implications that affect an entire school.
The public high school athletic departments are largely funded by ticket sales. The majority of the revenue comes from gate receipts at Friday night football games.
Cameron Yearsley, starting his first year as athletic director at South, estimates the school lost out on $4,500 by canceling Friday's game. Not only does the school lose the would-be ticket sales, but South still has to pay game officials and stadium workers.
"It puts us in the hole," Yearsley said. "That's $4,500 we're not going to have. We budget quarterly, so we'll have to adjust (next quarter)."
Canceling the preseason game is less costly than losing a regular-season contest because schools make less money. Each host school must pay the FHSAA 20 percent of its gross receipts or $1,150, whichever is less, for a preseason football game. The visiting team then receives 35 percent of the profit after expenses.
With potential damage to their football teams and their budgets, athletic directors do everything in their power to play. That includes waiting out weather delays as long as possible.
Games cannot start later than 10 p.m. per FHSAA rules. Gulf Coast's home game against Miami-Coral Park kicked off around 9:40 p.m. Naples and Hialeah began at 10:03 p.m.
Though players can lose concentration during a two-and-a-half-hour delay, Naples was glad to play. The Golden Eagles lost two days of practice to lightning leading up to the game, and coach Bill Kramer said his team needed the work.
"We needed to be able to play at full speed," Kramer said. "I would hate to go as long as we would have gone (if the game was canceled) before we played against Dunbar (in Week 1). I wouldn't want to open the season with that much time in between."
Plus it's good practice for handling weather delays, which plague stormy Southwest Florida the first month of the season.
"It's going to be good experience for us down the road," Kramer said. "You never know when that's going to happen playing in Florida. I'd rather have that experience now and not have the first time be in the playoffs or a district game."