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Palm Beach Post (Florida)
Friday night lights in Palm Beach County were dimmed for the second straight year, courtesy of a sprawling tropical weather system that impacted much of Florida.
Hurricane Irma closed classrooms, knocked out power and snapped trees throughout the county as it passed by to the west Sept. 10.
The storm forced the postponement or cancellation of dozens of football games, volleyball matches and other fall sports events, and halted practices for nearly two weeks after schools closed Sept. 7.
Last year, Hurricane Matthew also affected Palm Beach County, though to a lesser degree.
Football teams missed one week of games last season, and two weeks this year. The school district has rescheduled some of those games, but practice time lost to the storm can't be recovered. And that can be a challenge for coaches and players.
"Football is a game of doing your job with consistency and in a set routine," Seminole Ridge coach James Parson said. "Because of the hurricane, we could do none of those items, no consistency, and no routine."
Conditioning is a big part of that routine for football teams. With 12 missed days of practice or game time, some players could struggle to return to their pre-hurricane fitness levels.
"It's almost like starting over as far as conditioning goes," Forest Hill coach Jude Blessington said. "And I think execution is the next big worry. It just won't be what it was when the stoppage came, and there's really no way around that except to just get back to it and work all of that out on the fly. It won't be pretty at first."
The Florida High School Athletic Association has encouraged coaches to modify their practice sessions until players get back into their regular routines.
In a statement released Sept. 14, the organization suggested a combination of reduced equipment, shorter duration practices, lower intensity practices and more frequent rest and hydration breaks should be instituted following a return to the practice field, or court.
Volleyball teams also lost practice time and games to Hurricane Irma, and area coaches said they are taking care to ensure the safety of their players as the season restarted Monday night.
"As a coach, missing practices is always cause for concern," American Heritage girls volleyball coach Tricia Couch said. "However, there is nothing more important than the safety of our athletes and staff.
"They're all going to come back a bit rusty, but you have to trust that they can quickly overcome that and get back into peak playing level."
Coaches are eager to return to a normal routine following the disruption caused by Hurricane Irma, but some hurdles -- like scheduling -- remain.
Teams are scrambling to make up the games they missed, particularly with the new points system factored in. Teams must play a minimum of eight games to qualify for the playoffs, though the FHSAA can waive that requirement on a case-by-case basis.
"We don't want to miss any games," said Cardinal Newman football coach Brian Pulaski, who was able to reschedule the Crusaders' Week 4 game, but not Week 3. "We missed one last year, and it seems like we might miss one this year."
Another concern for coaches is the loss of game film for players trying to earn college scholarships.
"Kids have a limited number of contests in their high school careers," Blessington said. "So it pains you as a staff any time they lose an opportunity to play a football game or to create a highlight, or more importantly, a memory."
Those concerns are echoed by other area coaches.
"Every one of us is in the same boat," Parson said, "we navigate this new stream together ."
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