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PIAA lets schools decide on masks

The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association left the decision on whether student athletes would wear masks in competition in the hands of each individual school district at its board meeting on Wednesday.

“I would like to make a motion for the PIAA to release a statement reiterating the masking order while making note to the exceptions within that order,” PIAA board member Bob Hartman said. “I would ask that our schools contact their solicitors in consultation with their school boards to determine their masking policies moving forward.”

The Pennsylvania government issued updated mask mandates Tuesday that included wearing them during athletic competitions.

Exceptions listed include situations where “wearing a face covering while working would create an unsafe condition in which to operate equipment or execute a task determined by local, state or federal regulators or workplace safety guidelines,” or “wearing a face covering would either cause a medical condition, or exacerbate an existing one, including respiratory issues that impede breathing, a mental health condition or a disability.”

Bishop Guilfoyle athletic director Joe Landolfi said a decision about whether the Marauders would be wearing masks during their football game on Saturday at Steelton-Highspire was expected today.

“The board felt that this assessment should be done by each local school, because they have their own health and safety plans and know the conditions of their students by the forms students must fill out to play athletics,” PIAA Executive Director Dr. Robert Lombardi said. “The medical team at each local school can make not only team but individual decisions on what is best.”

Game officials and referees will be complying with the mandate.

“According to the order, our people will be masked,” Lombardi said. “A lot of games, they already have been. But this weekend, officials will have masks unless they have a condition that does not allow for it.”

Some winter sports, which are still scheduled to begin practice on Friday and begin regular season competition on Dec. 11, seem as though wearing a mask would be particularly problematic such as swimming. The PIAA said it reached out to the governor’s office for clarification on such issues but received no response.

“I think we’ve got a serious issue when it comes to swimming,” PIAA Associate Executive Director Melissa Mertz said. “That is something that we’re definitely going to push for some clarification. I’m not sure all of the sports where thought of when that was put in there, so it’s definitely something we’re going to have to get clarification on, because when you’re talking about swimmers turning their heads for oxygen in the pool, we could have some serious medical complications if we don’t have some kind of exemption for swimming.”

SUBHED: Championships a go

The PIAA soccer and volleyball championships scheduled for this weekend along the football semifinals will be played as scheduled.

For Philipsburg-Osceola fans attending the Lady Mounties’ championship game at Cumberland Valley, spectators will only be allowed in the upper bowl and no individual medals will be distributed on the court.

The Class 1A football championship game, which could involve Bishop Guilfoyle, is tentatively scheduled for 11 a.m. on Nov. 27, and the Class 3A title game, which could include Bedford, will follow it the same day at 3:30 p.m. at HersheyPark Stadium.

“We’re 10 days away from completing the fall season,” Lombardi said. “We’re very proud of that. Many of our schools were very concerned about even starting in August, but I think they proved to their communities and everyone that this can be done if taken seriously.”

SUBHED: Winter sports

Lombardi also made it very clear that the PIAA’s intention is for teams to begin winter sports practices on Friday.

The Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference officially delayed the start of practices until Dec. 14 on Wednesday and moved the start of regular season games until Jan. 8. The Mid-Penn Conference will start practice on Friday but has delayed the start of its regular season competition one week. The Mountain and Inter-County Conferences plan on allowing teams to start Friday if their schools allow for it. Some schools, such as Northern Bedford, are virtual until Dec. 1 and that will cause some early games and practices to be delayed.

“It is our feeling that if schools are able, they should try to start on the day of the first practice day and get as many of their practices in as possible,” Lombardi said. “Because if they can get their 15 days of preseason in and be ready to start on the first weekend, whether they start or not is not the issue, because there might be an interruption in the season. But if you get those three weeks in, then you only need as of today three more days to start back up, though that’s up for discussion now at the next board meeting.

“We still would like to see the preseason take place so that if there is an interruption, you still have almost 10 weeks of the season to get your 22 competitions in. If you wait until Jan. 31 to start and still have to get three weeks of preseason in, that takes you about to Feb. 18, and you only have two weeks to play. You can’t play 22 games in 14 days. What we’re trying to do is get people to set the foundation so if there’s a hiccup, you can adjust and adapt. If we’ve learned anything from the fall, the people that started earlier were able to handle interruptions easier than those who started later because they ran against time.”

SUBHED: Virtual competition

Some sports, including swimming, rifle and gymnastics, will have the option of competing virtually.

One team could swim in its own school pool while another swims in its own school pool. The times will be fed into a computer system to determine the results. It would be required to have an official at both locations during the event.

It was made clear that this is simply an option for local schools, not a requirement. Traditional meets in these sports will continued to be allowed if agreed upon by both schools participating.

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