If things break right, East County high school girls will have two new sports to play starting with the 2021-2022 season.
The Florida High School Athletic Association approved sand volleyball and girls wrestling on June 12.
Some high schools, like Braden River High, already started a sand volleyball program with the Sunshine State Athletic Conference, which makes for an easy transition to the FHSAA. For Lakewood Ranch and The Out-of-Door Academy, sand volleyball will be a chance for something new, as is girls wrestling for all three schools.
Just because the sports have FHSAA approval does not mean they will be immediately implemented at every school. Lakewood Ranch athletic director Kent Ringquist said the process for adding a new sport beings at the district level, where Jason Montgomery, the Manatee County district supervisor of athletics, will present each sport's requirements to the schools.
Ringquist said Manatee County tries to have all its schools add a new sport at the same time. That way, schools have others teams in close proximity they can play, cutting down on travel costs and making scheduling easier.
There are exceptions to that preference, however. Lakewood Ranch added boys and girls lacrosse in 2017 alongside Manatee High, while Braden River still does not offer lacrosse because of a lack of interest.
In the case of sand volleyball, Braden River already has a program that competes in the Sunshine State Athletic Conference. With the resources for funding that program already in place, it is possible the Pirates could begin FHSAA play before other Manatee schools.
"Once we discuss it at the district level, it comes down to what our students and parents want," Ringquist said. "With lacrosse, a lot of our parents were pushing for it hard. They raised money for a program and we were able to fill out a full roster in the first year. That made it easy."
Basically, if there is enough interest in a sport and a willingness from participants to help with fundraising opportunities, its addition to the program can be accomplished.
Ringquist said scheduling the new sports will be another important factor. In the past, the Sunshine State Athletic Conference played sand volleyball in the spring, which conflicted with many players' club team seasons and caused turnout from top players to be low. If the FHSAA categorizes sand volleyball as a winter sport, Ringquist said, interest will be higher.
Likewise, if girls wrestling is played in the winter alongside boys wrestling, it will make the logistics of scheduling practices and meets easier. As of June 26, the FHSAA has not specified the seasons for either sport and there is no timetable for doing so.
Wrestling would be conducted in a typical gym, but sand volleyball requires a specialized court. That is one thing Ringquist does not see as an obstacle, he said. While Ringquist said he still needs to research the specifics, he does not believe the cost of building a court would be significant. The hardest part would be finding the right place on campus to place it.