Scoreboard operators across Southwest Florida have been getting quite a workout over the first four weeks of the high school football season.
Blowouts of staggering proportions have taken place, week after week, with potentially more on the way as the action resumes tonight.
When a team attains a lead of at least 35 points in the fourth quarter, rules state the game clock will continue to run other than for called timeouts or injuries. The running clock can occur in the third quarter with a 35-point differential and the agreement of both coaches.
"I try to split it into two games," said North Fort Myers coach Brian Makar, whose team has lost three times by 35 or more points this year. "If the first half isn't going well, you run the ball and just get through it as best as you can, get the clock going and get to halftime."
Makar said he saw no shame in accepting a running clock in the third quarter.
"It's not as painful," Makar said.
In the 21 games that have gone to a running clock so far this season, the outcomes combined for a score of 1,068-110. That's an average score of 50-5. The blowouts involved 24 of the region's 29 teams, meaning the impact has been area-wide.
A combination of factors has created a scoreboard disparity in the area.
Elite players transferring to other schools, teams playing against elevated competition, two teams switching from six-man to 11-man football and other intangibles such as injuries have factored into the equation.
Island Coast quarterback Kurt Benkert transferred from Cape Coral after last season. South Fort Myers wide receiver and wildcat quarterback Jayron Kearse transferred from Cypress Lake. They are two of the area's best players who switched to teams with already loaded programs.
Island Coast defeated North Fort Myers 48-0 last week. South Fort Myers plays host to North Fort Myers tonight.
Other players both prominent and unknown have switched schools through the Lee County School District's School Choice guidelines.
Makar said those guidelines should change based on what he saw happen at the end of last season. After North Fort Myers finished with a 2-8 record, 22 players in the program he inherited, including five with varsity experience, transferred to other area schools. The exodus left the Red Knights so thin that they have disbanded the junior varsity program.
"It's stupid," Makar said of the school choice policy. "It's dumb. It's ludicrous. It's not right. It used to be, you could change schools for academic reasons or if you moved."
Makar then raised his index and middle fingers, symbolizing quote marks.
"Now kids are leaving for 'academic' reasons," Makar said. "Then you get all of these waivers signed, and everybody signs off on it because nobody wants to ruffle any of the feathers with other schools."
For Bishop Verot, which lost to South Fort Myers 56-3 last week, the Vikings may have been asking for that kind of trouble. Bishop Verot coach Phil Dorn asked the Florida High School Athletic Association to play in Class 6A instead of 3A for the past two seasons in order to avoid playing most of its road games in a Tampa-based district.
Dorn said he is having second thoughts about doing that again when the FHSAA redistricts prior to next year.
"If 6A looks like it's going to be too big of a thing to bite off, we'll have to re-evaluate what we have to do to be successful," Dorn said. "We've got good players, and we're frustrated with the start, but we'll push. The kids we have are giving it everything they have and playing with a lot of heart and effort. That's what we ask, and it's what they're giving us."