The PIAA shouldn’t have to cry Wolf
This is a big week for participants and followers of Pennsylvania high school sports.
The PIAA met with representatives of Gov. Tom Wolf on Friday to counter the governor’s recommendation of postponing scholastic sports until Jan. 1 due to the coronavirus.
When Wolf made his recommendation on Aug. 6, the PIAA smartly responded the next day by pushing back the start of football season two weeks to Sept. 11 in hopes of gathering support — and an audience with Wolf — in the meantime.
Another PIAA meeting is scheduled Friday to announce its plans.
So far, the governor’s position remains unchanged, although he did emphasize Thursday that what he offered was a mere recommendation, adding, “You do what you want, and school districts are going to do what they want.”
Are they? If what we’ve seen out of the NCAA is any indication — where two of the Power-5 conferences (Big Ten, Pac-12) postponed their seasons while the three others (SEC, ACC, Big 12) forge ahead — there’s no guarantee all PIAA schools will be in lockstep.
The WPIAL has already announced its plans to play the season. Will District 6 follow?
In the worst pandemic of our lives, there are no easy answers here, especially when it comes to football, one of the least socially-distant sports.
Wolf is in collaboration with his top health adviser, Dr. Rachel Levine, who also favors the shutdown of youth sports.
Maybe neither have noticed that Little League is and has been in high gear. Summer basketball has hit playoff season, soccer teams are practicing, and youth football is not far behind.
Wolf, though, seems numb to it all, as if children should be placed in bubble wrap until he and Levine decide it’s safe to come out and play.
“We ought to be focused on trying to get our kids back to learning … and anything that interferences with that, in the short run, we ought to be careful about doing,” he said Thursday. “Whether it’s a directive or recommendation — to the extent we do those things (sports travel and participation), we make it harder for our kids to get the education we need them to get. We need them to be in school and get back to learning, and every time we do something that interferes with that, we’re doing all of Pennsylvania a disservice.”
Wolf said his daughters participated in cross country during their high school days in York so he has some appreciation for the rewards and relationships of athletics.
And yet, this is the yellow flag he raised Thursday on his experience: “You’d think cross country would be one of the sports that would be least likely to spread the virus. But all the parents would congregate at the finish line, and that’s a place for the virus to spread.”
Fine, so recommend the parents disperse to a safe, socially-distant spot on the cross country course with full confidence they won’t be trampled, mask them, and if Wolf or Levine has a relative in the field, they can sit in their cars, and someone can text them updates.
Wolf’s top aide, Lt. Governor John Fetterman, seems more open to reason — particularly for the Olympic sports.
On football, he told Fox43’s Matt Maisel, “It’s going to be a challenge. Penn State just canceled their season, so I think the writing’s on the wall. But there are other sports — like cross country or golf or soccer — that might make sense to a lot of parents in terms of safety for their kids. We can’t ignore the fact that children need other children. And they need physical activity. And they need to be outdoors.
“The virus is telling us what sports make sense and what other sports might not make sense.”
Fetterman, who played four years of college football, also recognizes not all parts of the state have been hit by the virus as hard as, say, York County.
“It’s different in a smaller, rural county than in an urban area,” he told Maisel, formerly of WJAC. “The governor and Secretary Levine acknowledged that. It’s not a broad brush. It’s very much local controlled and local options.”
These are trying times, and relative to a solution, nobody knows anything for sure.
But high school sports represents such a valued commodity for so many — individuals and their families, schools and entire communities — and after athletic directors and coaches spent thousands of hours over the summer, planning and adjusting and conforming to ever-changing guidelines, the PIAA can’t just pull the plug.
Kids grow up their entire lives envisioning playing for their local high school team, so while the virus has certainly proven to be unpredictable and dangerous, let’s not underestimate the positive difference sports makes — especially for the underprivileged.
You cannot begin to count the number of NBA and NFL players who, in their shining moment on draft night, expressed appreciation for the commitment and accountability sports demands. And how many knew they’d be either in jail or dead were it not for the pursuit of their dreams.
But it’s not only about the future pros. It’s about the third-string center content just to be part of the team. It’s about the band and the cheerleaders, too.
I would hope that the PIAA can conduct all of its competition — even without fans other than parents and siblings — on a sport-by-sport basis, ready to adjust when necessary. And if it’s deemed that football won’t work this year, by all means let the sports that can be staged more safely play on.
See if golf and tennis, volleyball and soccer and, yes, cross country can outrun the virus. For one thing, they’ve all lived in football’s shadow forever. Don’t penalize them, too.
Let’s hope we can get to the end of this miserable time in our lives soon, and that sports doesn’t have to be more of a casualty than it has already been.
Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or email@example.com.