Posted: 10:16 am Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

Sickness forces Palm Beach Gardens to cancel football game 

By Jason Lieser

Updated Sept. 16, 8:02 p.m.
Palm Beach Gardens has canceled its game this week against Royal Palm Beach due to the spread of an undisclosed illness.

Gators coach Chris Davis said “11 or 12 players” and one assistant coach missed practice this week because of sickness and several other players were sidelined with injuries. After a meeting between Davis, Athletic Director Bill Weed and Principal Larry Clawson, the school decided to cancel the game, which Palm Beach Gardens would have hosted Thursday night at nearby Dwyer High School.

“We’re as sick as I’ve ever seen a team,” Davis said. “Unfortunately, as a last resort, we ended up canceling our game. It’s the last thing we wanted to do.”

Weed said H1N1, commonly called swine flu, is a concern and believes the players and coaches are afflicted with one common illness, but school officials did not know details of each person’s health.

“The doctors make them stay home for a week,” Weed said. “We don’t have enough healthy kids to put out there right now.

“Whether it is (swine flu) or not, I don’t know. They’re just being cautious and I don’t blame them. There’s a national epidemic out there.”

Clawson said the football team’s issue is not indicative of a school-wide problem. Illness-related student absences are no higher than usual, he said.

During the weekend, Davis heard that several players and some coaches were ill. This week’s game came into question when at least 20 players missed Monday’s practice for various reasons.

There was little, if any, improvement by Tuesday, and the school canceled the game rather than call up inexperienced junior varsity players. Weed said there has been no discussion about rescheduling, though he was open to the possibility.

Practice was canceled Wednesday and Davis said he expects to resume team activities Friday or Monday. Clawson supported that decision and said some facets of participating in athletics increase the likelihood of spreading illness.

“As a team, kids are interacting at a very close range, physically,” Clawson said. “They’re sharing items in the locker room, possibly. That lends itself on a normal basis to kids passing something on to the other. Any time you have a team sport and a team that has as many kids as a high school football team, you have a chance for this to happen.”

Carlos Dansby, whose son is a senior on the team, was disappointed the players would miss out on the game, but praised Davis and the school for ‘doing the wisest thing.’

“In this situation, you can’t push forward,” Dansby said. “Maybe you have other kids on the team who are about to come up with the symptoms, but they aren’t feeling sick yet. By Thursday or Friday, my kid might be sick. I definitely wouldn’t want my son playing in this situation.”

Weed and Davis were optimistic that keeping players home this week would enable them to recover and return to school next week. Weed hopes the team will be able to play its next game, Friday, Sept. 25 against Treasure Coast.

The canceled game is believed to be the first major public school event canceled in Palm Beach County out of health concerns since the H1N1 outbreak earlier this year, Palm Beach County School District spokesman Nat Harrington said.

It is unclear whether the game will be cancelled or ruled a victory by forfeiture for Royal Palm Beach.

Per Florida High School Athletic Association bylaws, a forfeit would automatically disqualify Palm Beach Gardens from the state playoffs, though the school can request a waiver against that rule because of unusual circumstances.

Royal Palm Beach, meanwhile, is coming off a bye week and the Wildcats will go 21 days between games. They host Glades Central next Friday.

Wildcats coach Frank Kunf said he thought someone was pulling a prank on him when he heard Palm Beach Gardens would not be able to play and was surprised by the extent of the problem when he spoke with Davis early Wednesday.

‘I definitely sympathize,’ Kunf said. ‘I hope his kids get better. I’ve been coaching since 1972 and I can’t ever remember this. This is unprecedented.’

Last month, King’s Academy canceled a pre-season game because the school had concerns about a possible swine flu outbreak.