PIAA votes to move forward with fall sports

Story courtesy of the Bethlehem Press newspaper

by Peter Car pcar@tnonline.com

The PIAA made their decision and voted to proceed with a fall sports season across Pennsylvania during a board of directors meeting Aug. 21.

The Board voted by a 25-5 margin to move forward with fall sports this week, under the guidance of each local school district or conference.

“The Board agrees the decision to compete in athletics should be made locally allowing for each school entity to decide whether to proceed and which sports to sponsor,” said the PIAA in the news release sent out last Friday. “As the health and safety of students is paramount in moving forward with athletics, the Board believes that through each member schools’ adherence to their developed school health and safety plans and the PIAA Return to Competition guidelines sports can continue.”

The decision to move forward with fall sports gives participants a breath of fresh air following Gov. Tom Wolf’s “strong recommendation” that all sports be pushed back to January 1, 2021. That prompted the PIAA to gather information for two weeks, before coming to a conclusion last week.

“The PIAA board of directors has heard the thousands of voices of student-athletes, parents, coaches, officials as well as community leaders that have contacted us,” the release stated. “We remind those individuals who have strongly advocated for athletics that they must keep strict adherence to school health and safety plans. All individuals involved in interscholastic athletic communities have a role in the health and wellness of all participants.”

Last week’s news gave football programs across the state the green light to start their heat acclimatization period on Monday. Golf could start as soon as this Thursday and tennis on August 31. All other fall sports could then start on September 11.

The East Penn Conference already voted to start football on October 2 and most fall sports on September 25. The Colonial League voted on Monday by a 12-1 margin to delay their fall seasons and start a week earlier than the EPC.

Golf will start on August 27, tennis on August 31 and cross country on September 11. The first league games in soccer, field hockey and volleyball will be September 18t and the first league football games will now be September 25.

Both conferences will have the option to schedule nonleague contests prior to their initial dates.

The PIAA also voted unanimously to approve a proposal that would allow fall sports seasons to be moved to another time of year, as well as allowing programs that don’t participate in the fall a chance to play in the spring.

That would give school districts like Harrisburg, Norristown, Cheltenham, Pottstown, Reading and the Philadelphia Public and Catholic Leagues, an opportunity to play in the spring since they have canceled fall seasons.

Even with the go-ahead from the PIAA, decisions will ultimately come down at the local level and the first week of school will be another hurdle.

“We need to open schools safely,” said Liberty athletic director and EPC vice president, Fred Harris. “This has been a fluid situation since March and nothing has really changed for us or our league. We’re going to go through with the plan we put in place, but we have to remain vigilant and keep everyone safe. That is the number one priority in all of this.”

Northampton boys’ soccer coach, Ryan Brazuk, was relived to hear the news last week, as it gives some clarity on the season moving forward.

“It was definitely great to hear,” Brazuk said. “We’ve been training since the beginning of July just trying to play within the means of COVID rules, but it’s been stressful for our seniors, who didn’t know what was going to happen.”

With sports moving forward, the key will be to avoid hiccups to keep the fall season on track.

“Thankfully our numbers are good in the Lehigh Valley, as far as COVID cases,” Harris said, “but we can’t rest on that. We have to be safe to keep this going.”