Area ADs, leagues form return strategy

Area officials and athletic directors are once again scrambling to find an answer to the latest challenge placed in front of them after last week’s government-imposed shutdown of scholastic sports.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced on Dec. 10, the day before scholastic sports were set to begin competitions in the state, that all sports at the high school level would be paused from Dec. 12 until Jan. 4.

That meant a change in plans for many area schools and conferences including the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference and the Inter-County Conference, in which most of the teams from the Mirror’s coverage area play.

The ICC and LHAC teams were set to begin practice on Dec. 14, but that changed with last week’s announcement.

“The LHAC has redesigned its league schedule,” LHAC executive director Scott Close said. “(Our new schedule) will allow each team to compete against every LHAC opponent one time. It is hopeful that the LHAC semifinals and finals will occur close to the last weekend in February. If a school can’t begin on (Jan. 22), then that school will individually look to reschedule its games.”

The new LHAC schedule addresses boys and girls basketball along with wrestling.

The basketball plan begins with six games on Jan. 22 with 12 scheduled games over 13 play dates through Feb. 24.

The wrestling schedule will begin on Jan. 23 and will include 10 dual meet dates, including one date on Feb. 4 with nothing scheduled to allow for makeups, so that each of the 10 LHAC wrestling teams get nine dual meets. The final scheduled meets are on Feb. 16.

The PIAA moved up its next meeting to this Tuesday to discuss several issues, including the concern of wrestling coaches that the PIAA team wrestling finals are scheduled for Feb. 12-13, which would mean district champions would have to be determined by Feb. 6.

“The timeline for PIAA playoffs certainly allows for more opportunities in basketball along with the ability to continue playing after your team loses in the playoffs or doesn’t make it. I am not sure if it helps as much (currently) with swimming and wrestling,” said Hollidaysburg athletic director Homer DeLattre, who added Hollidaysburg’s return-to-play plan involves returning to practice Jan. 4 and starting competitions on Jan. 21. “We all play a huge role in helping slow the spread of the virus by limiting gatherings, masking, spacing and cleaning in order to get our students back into school and back to the court, pool and mats.”

The ICC is now planning to start its winter season on Jan. 25 and play out the games as they were scheduled before starting to add extra missed ICC games on Feb. 15. The league is leaving it up to individual school districts on whether they would like to keep non-conference games on their schedule or add new non-conference contests.

“Bellwood-Antis was to start practice (Dec. 14), but we obviously had to move everything back to Jan. 4 and hoping to begin playing on Jan. 25,” Bellwood-Antis athletic director Charlie Burch said. “I am personally hoping to get our league games in and maybe a couple others. It would be nice for B-A to play Tyrone in non-league play. But we will start planning very shortly to get a schedule together. I think some leagues and ADs are hesitant to get too gung-ho on rescheduling until we see if the shutdown is really over on Jan. 4.”

While many teams are hoping to start in late January others, like Portage and Glendale, have already pushed the start of their first competitions back to February.

The Vikings, who have yet to practice toward the PIAA’s mandated 15 preseason practices, won’t start practicing until Jan. 20 and playing contests until Feb. 8 at the earliest.

“I’m not concerned about the playoffs,” Glendale athletic director John Matchock said. “I just want the kids to get a season. It won’t be a full season, but as long as they can get something, I’ll be happy. It’s not an ideal situation, but you can’t let kids who have been playing since second grade not have an ending to their high school basketball playing days.”

The impact on Glendale’s wrestling team, one of the top squads in the area, and returning two-time state champion Brock McMillen, remains to be determined based off what the PIAA decides to do with the wrestling dates at its meeting Tuesday.

Other schools, like Central and Tyrone in the Mountain League, could compete earlier, if they can find opponents. Both schools already have some practices in, and before the shutdown, Tyrone actually had games scheduled in December.

“Because of this (pandemic) we couldn’t go to team camps, and the Hollidaysburg league folded so we had to play at Lakemont,” Tyrone boys basketball coach George Gripp said. “We had very few practices in our own gym, and then this happens. It’s one thing after another. Before the shutdown, we were going to play Loyalsock on Dec. 19. We had planned to go down there and play them, and we still had a game against Clearfield on Dec. 22, so I addressed the team and they were finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel to get back to some kind of normalcy, and it wasn’t 40 minutes into practice that a wrestling coach came in and told us Wolf shut us down again. It’s tough on these kids. They don’t deserve this.”

Tyrone athletic director Luke Rhoades said he’s thankful that so many people have been working with him to try and give his student athletes the closest thing to a normal season as possible.

“We were set to have a few games in before the holiday break for each of our teams,” Rhoades said. “I really appreciate all the patience and understanding of the officials and the official assignors. I believe I have emailed Clark Adelman at least 50 times with changes, and each time he was able to get me crews and make sure our games would have been covered.”


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