Springtime Jamborees: They Don’t Count, Yet They Do by Merlisa Lawrence Corbett

Springtime Jamborees: They Don’t Count, Yet They Do
By Merlisa Lawrence Corbett

With our mild winters, some mistakenly think Central Florida lacks any signs of spring. However, many signs exist.

Azaleas and orange blossoms bloom, snowbirds flock to beaches, prom dresses go on sale and spring football gets underway at local high schools.

Like blossoming flowers, spring football represents renewal. Planted as firmly in Florida as a hardy palm, spring football offers area high school coaches and players a chance to dream and hope.

Finally, the “wait until next year” is almost here.

The ritual begins with spring practice and ends with a celebratory spring game, also known as a jamboree. This annual rite of spring serves as equal parts audition, pep rally and fundraiser.

The audition begins with an open casting call to all would-be players. This includes those who were on the team last year, those who play other sports and have decided to give football a try and middle school kids who will be high-schoolers in the fall.

There will be no seniors playing spring football. They represent the past and unofficially are already no longer part of the team. Some have just celebrated National Signing Day, in which they committed to play college football.

Superstars such as Haines City’s Derwin James, who committed to play for the Florida State Seminoles this fall, are already a part of the past.

That 2014 district title won by the Lakeland Dreadnaughts, is old news. Last year’s record can’t buy the perennial powerhouse a touchdown in 2015.

Spring football is all about the future and its limitless possibilities.

To capitalize on this forward thinking, coaches like to assign new catch phrases and themes for the spring.

Winter Haven High School Coach Charlie Tate used: “All in. All Out” in 2013. Last year, it was “Bring It.”

Returning players have the inside track at making the team in the fall. However, nothing is guaranteed. All of a sudden, talented ninth graders and transfer students, and even homeschoolers are competing for roster spots.

Players need not worry about being cut in the spring. It’s all about new beginning. Players get assigned numbers, some putting on the high school’s colors for the first time. Practices are less intense and more about conditioning than the combative stuff seen in the fall.

Practices culminate with scrimmages and a spring game. These scrimmages, in which players on the same team face off, have evolved into celebrated, dressed rehearsals.

Color-coded teams are separated based on offense and defense, and sometimes caliber of play. The games take place in May. The Winter Haven Blue Devils will hold a Blue-Gold game. Lakeland plays an Orange and Black match and Lake Gibson hosts a Garnet and Gold contest.

To the casual onlooker, these scrimmages look like real games. Concession stands are open.  Cheerleaders—often going through their own spring rituals—are on hand. Fans fill the stands.

But the only thing on the line is pride and perhaps playing time. The scrimmage helps coaches evaluate talent. They expose new players to game-day situations unavailable in practice. It also weeds out the weaker players, who may find themselves on the bench for the big spring game.

The big spring game, the jamboree, is when players who have only tested themselves against teammates, finally get to play a real opponent.

Instead of a grand pep rally, spring football has turned into a preview-party and awesome way to raise funds.

Unlike fall jamborees, when teams are gearing up for the pending regular season, spring jamborees are glorified scrimmages that help players and coaches sort out who they are.

The Florida High School Athletic Association doesn’t allow any official spring practices until late April. Coaches are allowed 20 practices and one unofficial spring game, the somewhat meaningless jamboree.

Why meaningless? Because similar to the NFL preseason, these games are unofficial. So even if your team clobbers its opponent, as Manatee High School did to Haines City last year in their spring game, it’s tough to get too excited.

After receiving congratulations for their win over Haines City, Manatee Coach Jim Phelan told the Bradenton Herald, “Yeah, but it doesn’t count.”

Well, it counts for something. Players will know where they stand with the coaching staff based on the amount of playing time they get in the spring. Also, many college scouts turn out to watch these events.

It also gives smaller schools a chance to test their mettle against powerhouse they might not otherwise get to play. Last year, Winter Haven upset 8A State Champions Apopka, 31-29, in the spring game. The previous year Apopka destroyed Winter Haven 46-13.

The Blue Devils had just lost a lot of talent to graduation, including the starting quarterback. There was concern about what the team might look like with a newer, younger and considerably smaller quarterback.

The big win gave the Blue Devils confidence that they carried all the way to playoffs.

Just like the first signs of spring, a team’s performance in the spring game is a preview of things to come.

So if cool temperatures have you confused about what season it is, look for definite signs of spring. You’ll see these signs soon, sprouting up on practice fields all over Polk County.