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PIAA delays decision

Aug. 24 new target date

The PIAA delayed the start of fall sports and heat acclimation week for high school football for two weeks Friday after Gov. Tom Wolf’s recommendation that interscholastic sports not take place until Jan. 1, 2021 on Thursday.

District 6 chairman Bill Marshall made the official motion Friday during the PIAA meeting.

“I’d like to make the motion to defer the start of all fall sports for two weeks to Aug. 24, 2020,” Marshall said. “During which, staff has requested to keep a dialogue with the administration, the legislature and all athletic stakeholders to obtain clarification for possibility of safely conducting athletic activities in conjunction with the start of the school year.”

The motion passed on a 30-2 vote with Jonathan Bauer, the Pa. principals representative, and Michael Allison, the WPIAL treasurer, being the two members to vote no.

PIAA executive director Dr. Robert Lombardi explained the delay.

“Over the next two weeks, we’re going to do our best to meet with as many stakeholders as we can, including the General Assembly, staff of the Department of Health and the governor’s office and see if we can collaborate and work together about starting fall sports,” Lombardi said. “The board is trying to get as much information as possible. This announcement was (Thursday). People are asking our board of directors to make a decision in 24 hours that could negatively impact hundreds of thousands of people. The board takes this decision very seriously, and by buying a couple weeks’ time, we can get as much information as possible. We think that’s wise.”

The PIAA said in its release that consistent with the advice of its Sports Medicine Advisory Committee, the organization continues to believe it can safely sponsor fall sports. Lombardi said the PIAA is simply hoping to have the same opportunity that many recreational leagues had this summer.

“There have been sports held by the general public, and they haven’t had an issue. Girls volleyball, soccer and field hockey tournaments are being held as well as basketball,” Lombardi said. “There was a wrestling tournament out here last weekend that had 1,400 wrestlers. Our schools have done a fabulous job of updating safety plans, and everything they have been asked to do they have done.”

Lombardi was asked if the PIAA would be willing to hold fall sports even if Gov. Wolf’s recommendation did not change.

“Part of the trouble here is that we certainly want the support of the administration, but coming out with the general statement that was released, I don’t see how golf, tennis and cross country that are also being carried on in every community in public and private facilities throughout the commonwealth can go off safely and we’re not getting the same opportunity,” Lombardi said. “That’s part of the discussion. Let’s have that discussion so we can address any issues with these sports going on and possibly have them going forward.”

Under the current plan of starting fall sports on Aug. 24, the first high school football regular season games would be held on Sept. 11. The original start date for games was Aug. 28. High school golf matches would begin Aug. 27, and high school girls tennis could start on Aug. 31. Both golf and tennis could have originally started their seasons Aug. 17.

High school football starting heat acclimation on Aug. 24 lines up with the start date of many area schools, which could pose a problem for players’ schedules according to Hollidaysburg athletic director and football coach Homer DeLattre.

“It’s going to be a little difficult if they are going to mandate heat acclimation hours, because we have school that week,” DeLattre said. “That could throw a wrench in some scheduling, because for heat acclimation, you have to practice three straight hours for five consecutive days. We’ll have to figure out the schedule if we still have to do three consecutive hours, because that’s a long day for kids with school starting. We’ll make it work, because the important part is kids getting to do what they love to do and play sports. It gives people time to reach out in their communities and raise support for the kids.”

Lombardi said it did matter that Gov. Wolf only recommended the Jan. 1 sports start date and was not stricter.

“We would like to have full support; however, it was a recommendation. It wasn’t a mandate, and it wasn’t an order,” Lombardi said. “If it was an order, we probably wouldn’t be having the discussion we’re having here today.”

If the next two weeks do not go well, and the fall season can’t start on Aug. 24, Lombardi said he’s heard pleas from members of the Pennsylvania government to be flexible.

“(Legislators) would like to have discussion with us on if they can be of assistance in starting fall sports for student athletes, and if we can’t, what can we do to hopefully have three sports seasons in some fashion toward the end of the school year?” Lombardi said. “We would take a very serious look at (football in early 2021) and possibly make some modifications to the season to get the support of our Sports Medicine Advisory Committee to carry activities out.”

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