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D6 could opt out of state playoffs

Area superintendents giving feedback on winter sports season

Due to concern from school superintendents in Intermediate Units 8, 10 and 11, which make up most of District 6 in scholastic sports, there is a possibility that the district may not participate in the PIAA playoffs during the winter sports season.

“Everything is on the table given the way our school boards are pushing back the start of athletics,” District 6 chairman Bill Marshall said.

At this point, there is nothing set in stone and a decision isn’t expected until January, though the District 6 committee will meet to discuss feedback from the superintendents today.

“I started getting copied on numerous emails from District 6 superintendents to (PIAA Executive Director) Dr. (Robert) Lombardi requesting that the winter sports season be delayed until February,” said Marshall prior to Wednesday’s PIAA board meeting where the organization gave the green light to winter sports starting competitions this Friday. “I do not think the majority of the board of the PIAA directors support that.

“So, what I threw out to our District 6 committee was that I would do a survey of every superintendent in District 6 and see what their beliefs are and if that’s something that the District 6 superintendents would support in not starting sports until Feb. 1. We already have a number of schools that have delayed and can’t start competitions until Feb. 1. I think others will follow. The issue is if District 6 is still going to participate in the state playoffs, we would have different schools with different number of competitions to qualify for the district playoffs.”

State College superintendent Bob O’Donnell opened Wednesday’s PIAA meeting with a plea to the board members.

“Not only am I the superintendent of a pretty good-sized school district, I am a former high school basketball coach in Pennsylvania as well as the father of three current student athletes. I am a huge proponent of high school athletics, and I understand how valuable it is for our students,” O’Donnell said. “Having said that, I believe we should delay the PIAA winter competitions until at least Feb. 1. Right now, our county and its neighbors are burning up with COVID-19 cases. In our district’s schools, we have had almost 50 cases of COVID among our employees and students in the last 10 days. Our hospital has been at maximum capacity for weeks. The delay would allow us to begin the distribution of the vaccine and hopefully see a better outlook as it relates to the spread of the virus in the commonwealth. Our belief is that we should shift the winter and spring competition seasons so that these student athletes still have the opportunity to compete, but hopefully in a safer environment.

“From one school district’s lens, if we move forward right now, our school district will have to seriously consider opting out of some competitions. That, more than anything, goes against what I desire for our student athletes.”

Bellwood-Antis superintendent Tom McInroy spoke about the topic at his school’s board meeting on Tuesday. He said superintendents from the area were planning to meet on Friday to discuss athletics for winter sports and said the majority of those would like to see a delay in winter sports with elimination of state playoffs and championships at the end of the year.

McInroy added that there were 53 superintendents in Intermediate Units 8, 10 and 11 and 15 had given their opinion, mostly from Clearfield and Centre County. He reinforced that he would like to see Bellwood’s kids get the chance to participate in both winter and spring sports.

While the PIAA decided to go ahead with Friday as the start to winter sports, it did make several changes that could allow District 6 to still compete, even if play does not begin until Feb. 1.

A rule that requires teams to compete in at least 50 percent of the maximum number of regular-season contests, 22 for boys and girls basketball, to be allowed to compete in the state tournament, was waived.

Only district champions will be invited to the PIAA tournament, pushing back the start of the basketball tournament one week to Tuesday, March 16, thus allowing more time to complete district playoffs.

“By starting early and learning lessons from the fall, wiping away the end of the regular season and giving them all the way until the championship with a 16-week season provides every school the most flexibility they can have in their own best interests to have as much competition as they want or as little,” Lombardi said. “This gives them the opportunity to decide on their own what their community wants, with their best interest. It’s not a one size fits all.”

Teams could also continue to play regular season games after being eliminated from the postseason as long as the total number of games does not exceed the maximum amount allowed.

“We most likely won’t be making a decision (today) at our District 6 committee meeting,” Marshall said. “We would likely wait until January until we see what is going on, but it’s something we want to discuss because other districts across the state did it in the fall, and now that I’m getting all this feedback from superintendents that we should delay until Feb. 1, because some schools can’t start playing until then. That’s why Tom (McInroy) brought that up at their board meeting, because I sent something out to all District 6 superintendents asking for feedback.”

As of Wednesday, most districts across the state will begin the winter scholastic season on Friday, but District 6 currently has no games scheduled. Many teams in Blair County are scheduled to resume practices on Monday.

“I’m surveying the superintendents to give data to our District 6 committee on what our schools are thinking,” Marshall said. “In the fall, there were districts across the state that said they were going to just focus on district championships and not participate in the state championships. That gave them time to have their district championships the whole way until November.”

PIAA notes

The following are some notes from Wednesday’s PIAA meeting.

— Only district champions will advance to 12-team PIAA basketball championship tournaments in all six classifications. If a district doesn’t have a team in a certain classification, the tournament will have less teams.

— The PIAA individual wrestling championships will be decided in eight-person brackets, with all competitors earning a medal. The team tournament will be made up of 16 teams.

— Swimming and diving qualifiers will be dropped from 32 to 16 for the championship round.

— If a school is shut down for at least eight days, a team must practice twice before playing again (after meeting the original 15-practice preseason requirement). If the school is shut down more than 10 days, a team is required three days of practice, and if it is shut down more than 14 days, four days of practice are required before a return to competition.

— The next PIAA meeting is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 6.

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