Lightning delays causing confusion

Commentary

Lightning struck twice last Friday night, well actually quite a few more times than that, and caused havoc at many of the area’s high school football games.

Among the games stopped for at least the mandatory 30 minutes were Tyrone at Central, Johnstown at Chestnut Ridge, Williamsburg at Claysburg-Kimmel, Forest Hills at Bedford and Meyersdale at Blacklick Valley.

The games at Central, Bedford and Blacklick Valley went into long delays but eventually finished before midnight. The games at Chestnut Ridge and Claysburg-Kimmel were considered completed early. At least that’s what most people thought.

When reached for a comment Monday about his game being called final with a few seconds left in the first half, trailing 22-0, Johnstown coach Tony Penna Jr. said he wasn’t sure the game wouldn’t be finished at some point.

“I want to talk to (Chestnut Ridge AD) Mark (Clevenger) and see if it’s feasible,” Penna Jr. said. “It was hard this past weekend with families and plans already set in stone.”

Penna Jr., also the athletic director at Johnstown, met with Clevenger and Chestnut Ridge coach Max Shoemaker during the delay.

“I left Friday with the understanding that if we could play in the future, we would, but we both agreed it would be a slim-to-none chance,” Shoemaker said. “We weren’t looking toward doubling up some week. If we both would have had an open date, maybe. Technically, I guess it would be unofficial until the end of the season. We agreed if we had the chance, we’d play, but I can’t see when we could.”

Shoemaker offered to finish the game Saturday, but Penna Jr. was hoping for Tuesday, which Shoemaker felt was too close to the Lions’ next game. Neither team wanted to finish Friday due to injury risk.

“On the radar, it didn’t look like it was going to relent,” Penna Jr. said. “The whole time we stood there it kept cracking. We had concerns about the kids being down for an hour, and we talked about playing another day. We’ve had multiple kids hurt already this season, and three more kids were hurt in that game.”

Though they talked about several different possibilities, they left without a decision set in stone, which goes against the policy that PIAA District 6 Officials Representative Mike Hudak texted to the Mirror last Friday night.

“By Rule 3 Section 1 Article 4 (the) game must be picked up at point of interruption unless both schools agree to terminate game with existing score,” Hudak wrote.

That scenario took place in Claysburg, where Williamsburg coach Bob Hearn’s team was losing 28-0 in the third quarter.

“Midway through the third, it started to lightning,” Hearn said. “We cleared the field, and it continued. We looked at the radar, and it looked like it was going to continue for a long time. We had been off the field for an hour, so we got together with the coaches, Claysburg AD and principal and went over our options which were to call the game, wait it out, or try to play it another time.

“We sort of felt that given the situation with the potential weather, waiting wasn’t a good option, because we could have waited well into the night. Given the score, there was not much chance of us coming back, and from my perspective, we were concerned about the safety of kids. The idea of getting them back out there, warmed up again, was not really conducive. With the holiday weekend, options were limited on finishing the game another time.”

Later in the week, the Mirror emailed Clevenger to ask if the game should be considered final.

“I have no dates in mind at this time,” Clevenger wrote. “I am considering this to be a game shortened by severe weather?”

It’s important to note that Penna Jr. did not seem angry or upset at the idea the game would or could not be finished, but the point is, he wasn’t sure, which means the game being considered final would seem at least questionable if you go by the book.

The lightning rule exists to protect players, and anything that’s done for that reason should be commended. But the enforcement of the rule needs some work beyond just the confusion that happened during the Chestnut Ridge game.

While players retreated to the locker rooms during the delays, Mirror writers at many of the delayed games reported stands, some metal, remained full with spectators, and in some cases, younger children took the field to play catch with footballs.

To be fair, in some of these cases, the lightning was so far away it wasn’t even raining and there was no real threat, and in other cases, announcements were made to clear the stands but were not completely heeded.

But that begs the question, if parents don’t feel their small children are at threat on the field, why is there a blanket rule that the players cannot stand there? And if the rule was put into place to protect players who are threatened, why aren’t we as worried about the rest of the people at the event?

Michael Boytim can be reached at mboytim@altoonamirror.com or 946-7521. Follow him on Twitter at @BoytimMichael.

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