The plan was to leave from school right after breakfast on Thursday morning.
The 400-mile trek from Fort Dorchester High School to Viera Beach High School in Melbourne, Fla., was scheduled to take just under seven hours with a brief stop near Brunswick, Ga., for lunch. The football game scheduled for Friday night was going to be a rematch of last year’s thrilling 31-28 Patriots' victory at Bagwell Stadium.
Hurricane Dorian, however, had other ideas.
The massive storm that pummeled the Bahamas before clipping the Southeast coast of the U.S. from Florida to North Carolina forced the cancellation of a game that both coaches – Fort Dorchester’s Steve LaPrad and Viera Beach’s Derek Smith – had been looking forward to since last year.
“It just stinks that we didn’t get to play this week,” said LaPrad, whose Patriots are coming off a 49-0 win over Cane Bay in the team’s season opener. “It’s disappointing, I know our seniors are really disappointed, they really wanted to play. I think we were all looking forward to going down there and playing them again. It was such a great game last year.”
Traveling with more than 100 football players, coaches, and support staff, along with 30 cheerleaders and hundreds of fans was a logistical challenge for LaPrad and his staff.
“It was going to take four buses to get everyone down there, including coaches wives, fans and parents,” LaPrad said. “We had a guy that was going to fly down there a day ahead of everyone and make sure everything was set up for us.”
The total cost for the three-day trip was around $30,000, which the Patriots had raised through donations, sponsorships and an online fundraising campaign. Cincinnati Bengals defensive lineman Carlos Dunlap, who played for the Patriots from 2004-06, chipped in $10,000 for the cause.
“It’s a shame because the kids worked so hard to raise the money and Carlos really stepped up and helped us out,” LaPrad said. “That money will go back to the booster club and we’ll use it for football and other sports.”
By Thursday, Dorian had move well north of Florida’s Space Coast where Viera Beach is located. Smith said the area had heavy rain and wind but very little damage.
“Thankfully Dorian stayed about 100 miles offshore, so there wasn’t as much damage as there could have been,” Smith said. “I just think about those poor people in the Bahamas. We’ve been out of school for more than a week. We haven’t touched the football field since last Wednesday. To play a game without practice or touching the field in more than a week wasn’t in the best interest of either team. We made the right decision.”
Fort Dorchester’s football team opened its 2018 football season with wins over Glynn Academy of Brunswick, Ga. and local foe Cane Bay. The Pat…
With the game canceled, LaPrad said he received several offers to play this Friday night, including one from T.L. Hanna, which advanced to the Class AAAAA state title game a year ago. The Yellow Jackets were scheduled to play Inlet Grove High School in Riviera Beach, Fla., Friday night. That game, like the Patriot’s matchup with Viera Beach, was wiped out by the hurricane.
“You can’t play a game unless you practice,” LaPrad said. “We would have loved to have played T.L. Hanna under the circumstances, but we couldn’t. My phone wouldn’t stop ringing. As soon as the game with Viera Beach was canceled, I got calls from coaches from North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, all wanting to play.”
There is a chance the game between Fort Dorchester and Viera Beach could be played next Friday night. The Hawks have an open date and if the S.C. High School League pushed the football season back a week that would allow the Patriots to make the trip. It’s not unprecedented for the high school league to extend the season because of weather. It happened last season because of Hurricane Florence and in 2015 after severe flooding throughout the state.
Jerome Singleton, the high school league’s executive director, said no final decision has been made about the football schedule.
“We’re waiting to see what the flooding and damage is to the coastal areas and then figure out what we’re going to do,” Singleton said Thursday. “Our preference is to play the season as is and keep to our original schedule, but a final decision won’t be made until probably this weekend or early next week.”
If the season is not extended, LaPrad said the Patriots might pick up a game in Week 8 when the team has a bye.
“Sumter along with a couple of other schools have already called us about a game that week,” LaPrad said. “It’s so late in the season that we might not do it. That’s so close to the playoffs. Sumter has a really good team. We will probably just cancel this game and go with our existing schedule.”
Regardless of what happens in the next week, Smith said the Hawks would like a rematch with the Patriots next season in the Lowcountry.
“We had a blast last year,” Smith said. “I’m going to try and see if coach LaPrad wants to bring us up again next year.”