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Pensacola Sports Hit by Coronavirus

Pensacola Ice Flyers

In addition to major sports leagues and events, the minor leagues are also feeling the pinch of coronavirus – including Pensacola’s two pro sports teams.

The decision by the Southern Professional Hockey league came as no surprise to Pensacola Ice Flyers owner Greg Harris.

“Honestly, it was the night before that, that I knew we were heading that way, probably within the next 24-48 hours,” said Harris. ‘When I received word that the NBA was suspending their season, I knew right away that it was going to come across to the hockey world and it was just a matter of time before we suspended our season.”

The SPHL suspension comes with 9–to-12 games remaining — depending on the team — on the 56-game schedule. In a statement, league president Doug Price says they’re monitoring developments with hopes of finishing the season. Harris is optimistic that the season — including the playoffs — can be completed at some point.

“This takes some time, but we’re staying hopeful – not just for our sake to be able to resume play, but just for the world just to be able to get back to normal,” Harris said. ‘I think everyone’s hoping we can get back to that as quick as possible. We’ll know more the next few days here.”

With 58 points, the Ice Flyers are in 4th place in the 10-team SPHL after 46 games. Pensacola also stands 3rd in attendance, at more than 3,600 people at each of the 24 home dates so far. Harris says the players are staying in town, and are still being paid.

“If things get better over the next few days,” said Harris. “Everything’s changing so fast; I think everyone’s hoping that it can change for the better as fast as it has changed for the worse. If we do that, then we’re able to kick things back on again; but in the meantime, there’s no team events.”

There are concerns that if the SPHL season is cancelled, it could lead to major crises for some of the member clubs.

“If things do go south and we end up having to cancel the season, we just hope that by next October, we’re able to go again,” Harris said. “We have steps in place that hopefully will make sure that the franchises are secure and it’s not because of this that they end up folding or anything like that. It could definitely come to that. We’ll do whatever we can as fellow owners, to make sure that doesn’t happen.”  

Credit Pensacola Blue Wahoos

Minor League Baseball is delaying the start of the 2020 season after talks with Major League Baseball and medical professionals about the coronavirus outbreak.

“Here in Pensacola, we’re doing everything as if we’re going to open on April 9 as the opening day; but in saying that, we know there will be some kind of hiccup or delay with that,” said Jonathan Griffith, president and general manager of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, which had been scheduled to open at home April 9 vs. the Tennessee Smokies.

“So we’re kind of making every decision as if we’re going to open April 9th, and then peel back as that happens,” said Griffith. “If it’s April 10th then we’re going to have a doubleheader sometime during that week, or that first home stand – we just don’t know.”

As for getting Bayfront Stadium ready for the Wahoos’ 70-game run, Griffiths says stringent hygiene practices are – and always have been – in place.

“Everything from the clubhouse to our concessions, we clean our stadium on a daily basis, especially after the season begins,” Griffith said. “From our bathrooms being bleached, to our seats and everything else. We’re preparing just like normal, [but] we’ll probably have a few more hand-sanitizing stations, which we always had those anyways.”

Elsewhere, one day after UWF President Martha Saunders said Argonaut games would continue, the Gulf South Conference suspended indefinitely all athletic competition and related activities. That includes spring football at UWF, which was to begin next week. The decision comes after talks among GSC officials, school administrators, and athletic directors.