The Out-of-Door Academy gymnasium greets visitors with the echoes of their own footsteps when it is empty.
Kippie Crouch, ODA's athletic director, has become familiar with this sound over the last two weeks. The door to her office sits inside the gym. She's still coming into work, but thanks to COVID-19 concerns, it will be a while before the gym is filled with students again, at least until April 15, the date chosen by the state of Florida.
"It's strange," said Crouch, who is also an assistant coach on the girls lacrosse team. "I miss seeing everybody and hearing their banter. The gym lights stay off all day. I am used to being interrupted a lot. Now I come in and sit down and even though I have things to do, I always think, 'I don't know what to do next.' And there are no events to attend at night either."
Being unable to host events affects ODA and other high schools in other ways, too. It also causes a lack of funds.
Lakewood Ranch High athletic director Kent Ringquist said the amount earned at the gates of an event varies by sport, but can be "several hundred dollars." Ringquist said that money goes toward the program's transportation, facility upgrades, athletic wear and equipment, officials fees and security.
Braden River High athletic director Matt Nesser said the program's gate funds went toward similar resources, while Crouch said ODA's gate funds paid officials fees first, while leftover money went into a general fund, to be used for whatever the school needs at the time. Those officials fees are expensive. Crouch said the school paid approximately $7,000 for officials to be at boys basketball games this season alone.
Nesser said it is possible the money lost from not having events could potentially hamstring the school's programs in terms of short-term upgrades, especially if the sports stoppage continues into the fall. Football is the school's biggest sport in terms of money, Nesser said. Not being able to host those games would hurt.
All three athletic directors stressed that no matter the financial implications, their biggest concern is the health and safety of their students.
Other things at the schools seem to be on schedule despite not having students present. Nesser said he does not anticipate construction on the school's new rubberized track, which is being paid for by the School District of Manatee County, to be delayed. Construction is scheduled to start in late July and to be completed in time for fall sports. Braden River will be the final school in the district to have its track renovated. It is something the school has needed for a long time, Nesser said, with the current track having an uneven surface. It has prevented the school from hosting track and field meets, Nesser said.
At ODA, Crouch has used her quiet time to take care of some of her more menial tasks, like making an inventory of each piece of sports equipment, tossing out the things that have become unusable. She will also be meeting with each of the school's head coaches, planning long-term goals for each sport and potential paths to achieve them. Crouch said she also hopes coaches take the time to reach out to their players digitally and make sure they are doing OK.
"Coaches have to be willing to build relationships," Crouch said. "Stay in touch with your kids. This is hard for them. It is hard for everyone. I think we can get through it together. Our community matters."
Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.