32963 Homepage

Want to purchase reprints of your favorite 32963 or photos?

Copies of Vero Beach 32963 can be obtained at the following locations:


Our office HQ: (located at 4855 North A1A)
1. Corey's Pharmacy
2. 7-Eleven

(South A1A)
3. Major Real Estate Offices


1. Vero Beach Book

2. Classic Car Wash
3. Divine Animal
4. Sunshine Furniture

5. Many Medical

Vero High football coach: ‘’Excited to have a season’

Photo: Lenny Jankowski, Vero Beach High School's Varsity football coach, leads a practice July 27, 2020.

As the pandemic continues, Vero Beach High School football will kick off Monday with the first official practice after the Florida High School Athletic Association’s Board of Directors voted 11-5 last week to begin fall sports Aug. 24. Regular season games are slated to start on the Treasure Coast Sept. 10-11.

“We’re excited to have a season,” says Vero Beach High School athletic director and varsity football coach Lenny Jankowski, who oversees dozens of varsity and junior varsity teams at VBHS, including football, baseball, basketball, lacrosse, tennis, girls volleyball, swimming, golf and wrestling.

“There is a lot at stake, a lot of work to be done,” Jankowski adds. “We’re on board. The kids are on board. The fans are on board. We want the opportunity to put a product on the field we can all be proud of. If it doesn’t work out, at least we gave it a shot.”

While awaiting the state association’s decision, football teams across the state did their usual “summer conditioning – no helmets, no pads,” says Jankowski.

Game schedules created last March have been “in limbo,” while awaiting word from the FHSAA, says Sebastian River High School Athletic Director Jessica Upchurch, whose Sharks also have been working out this summer.

The final decision came after months of stress, debate and a constantly changing playing field, as coaches, parents and decision-makers struggled to find a path that would allow student athletes to safely return to the sports they love.

The FHSAA Board had narrowed the choices to three options: retain the season timeframe set up in March; postpone practice until September; shorten regular season play and forgo state tourneys; or suspend regular play until next January. 

The board ultimately decided on option 1, a decision that came as several NCAA seasons were being canceled. As of press time, the Big Ten, Pacific 12 and Mid-America conferences all had opted out of fall sports. On Twitter, NCAA President Mark Emmert stated, “We cannot now at this point have fall NCAA championships.”

Option 1 includes the caveat that high school teams would not have to play a minimum number of games to be eligible for the statewide playoffs; that they may opt out of the playoffs by Sept. 18; and that may form their own regional schedule with FHSAA approval. 

Within those guidelines, Vero Beach High School and Sebastian High will play a more “localized” 4-county, 7-game schedule instead of playing statewide, competing as one of 12 teams from Indian River, St. Lucie, Martin and Okeechobee counties. “We’ve been working on it since June,” Jankowski says. 

Some smaller schools in the four-county area have chosen not to participate.

Meanwhile, COVID-19-adjusted summer conditioning continues. Only nine people in the weight room, only 50 players on the field at a time.

“To be honest,” says Jankowski, “the most I’m away from the kids [in a normal year] is a week at Christmas. Now it’s been four and a half months: It’s not the kids’ normal regimen. We’ve gotta get the kids off the couch. I’ve done this for 26 years; I could do it with my eyes closed. But now we’re screening, taking temperatures, distancing, and coaches are in masks. We got a lot of work done. Now we watch and listen and wait for Aug. 24, to get the juices going again. I feel good. I feel we can make this happen.”

Since the glory days when Coach Billy Livings’ Fighting Indians took the state championship trophy, Vero Beach High School football has consistently filled the stands under the Friday night lights, and the Fighting Indians Marching Band is a huge part of that game-night excitement.

Along with the athletes, the 100-plus marching band members continue to practice this summer as they face an uncertain future, hoping to entertain fans this fall.

VBHS director of bands Page Howell says summer band camps this year have a decidedly different look. Because of the pandemic, roughly 50 students opted not to participate. About 100 remain. Howell and his staff developed a detailed plan, complying with county health department guidelines, and approved by the school district superintendent.

“Our No. 1 priority is student safety,” Howell says. “We go to great lengths. We even did a video. There was a lot of planning to make it a good experience, and a safe one – that’s the key.” Although the teachers are not required to be tested, “we screen each other. We mask all day.”

On the practice field, “we don’t have the whole band together. There are many groups.”

The field is laid out with flags at appropriate intervals. Each student is assigned a flag to stand by. Ten students at a time practice in two-hour intervals throughout the day. The instructors wear masks the entire time and the students wear masks when they’re not playing. For indoor rehearsals, students are divided into small, socially distanced groups.

Should anyone test positive, county health department procedures would be implemented, and contact tracing would take place, according to School District public information officer Cristen Maddux. “We have a district COVID Response Team, and teams at each school,” Maddux says.

What ultimately happens with the marching band this season, Howell said, “depends on what happens with football.” Meanwhile, “the kids are so happy to be back. We’re adapting.”

Even with major college conferences making the choice to ditch fall ball, Jankowski and Sebastian’s Upchurch express optimism. The way Upchurch sees it, now that students  have been given the go-ahead to return to “brick and mortar schools,” they should certainly also have the opportunity to participate in their school’s athletic activities as well, knowing “we’re doing everything we can to get the kids back safely.”

Jankowski says “these kids work their tails off. They do right by us. They don’t want to miss the opportunity to play. Actually, I think the safest part of the school day is when they’re around us. There are,” he adds with conviction, “so many life lessons learned from athletics.”

Whether and in what way there will be fans in the stands remains to be figured out.