Last week, South Florida high school football teams claimed seven out of eight state titles, beating the crap out of teams from Central and North Florida. What’s even sweeter is that three of those championships were won by Miami-Dade inner-city public schools: Miami Northwestern, Miami Central, and Booker T. Washington.
This amazing feat was made possible by significant changes to the way the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) classifies teams in each district. Miami-Dade Public Schools board vice-chairman Steve Gallon III had mounted a campaign to reform a system that forced schools including Northwestern, Central, and Booker T. to beat each other up to reach a state title game in the same district.
“Many were quietly comfortable with the system that not only allowed but perpetuated ‘competitive cannibalism’ among mainly Black, inner-city schools,” Gallon told me in a recent email. “They were cool with our kids beating the hell of out each other at their own expense and loss.” Meanwhile, public schools in Central and North Florida and private school powerhouses such as St. Thomas Aquinas, Christopher Columbus, Champagnat Catholic School, and Chaminade-Madonna, which won the four other 2019 state titles, had an easier road by playing less talented district rivals.
In December 2018, Gallon persuaded Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and his colleagues on the school board to reclassify inner-city schools based on the current enrollment since the populations of those schools has fluctuated. It was time to do a proper headcount. Two days after the vote, the FHSAA reclassified all schools in the state to avoid having it imposed on the association.
At the same time, the FHSAA also sought to soften the blow of having Miami-Dade inner-city schools competing for different district titles by implementing a rating system that ranked teams based on their own winning percentage and the winning percentage of its opponents. It didn’t work, as three inner-city schools still made it to the playoffs and won titles.
The FHSAA also switched the site of the state title games from Camping World Stadium in Orlando to the Gene Cox Stadium in Tallahassee and to Daytona Stadium in Daytona Beach. None of the Miami-Dade public school teams had to travel all the way to the state capital, but conditions at Daytona Stadium were a disaster. According to the Orlando Sentinel, getting in and out of the stadium for the Miami Northwestern game took more than an hour. Cheerleaders from Miami Northwestern had to run from their bus to the stadium to be on the field on time. There were also problems with the scoreboard and wireless connectivity.
Next year, the FHSAA will surely find more ways to make the state playoffs an uncomfortable experience for Miami-Dade high school football teams. It’s going to be interesting to see what the good ole boys from Gainesville and Tallahassee come up with next.
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