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Scholastic sports off until Jan. 4

As cases of the COVID-19 pandemic surge throughout the state, and just one day after he had tested positive for the coronavirus himself, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf on Thursday decreed a temporary shutdown throughout the commonwealth of various businesses and activities, which will also affect PIAA sports.

The restrictions will begin Saturday and prohibit all sports activities at the state’s K-12 public schools, non-public schools, private schools, and at the club, travel, recreational and intramural levels until Monday, Jan. 4.

Professional and collegiate sports events will be permitted to be held without fans in the stands.

Since PIAA winter scholastic teams are required to have 15 practice days before a formal competition, and no team is permitted to practice seven days in succession, Wolf’s restriction will delay the start of the season until mid-to-late January for most area winter sports programs.

Wolf had spoken of imminent restrictions being imposed on Monday in order to prevent the increasing spread of the virus, which has already claimed more than 12,000 lives statewide.

Area athletic directors told the Mirror Thursday that they were ready and prepared for some type of delay to their winter sports schedules to be implemented in light of the recent COVID-19 surge.

“You can only control what you can control,” Altoona Area High School athletic director Phil Riccio said. “We’ve been making decisions in the best interests of the kids, and you prepare for what you can, but this (shutdown) was looming out there. We just didn’t know if and (for) how long.”

The Hollidaysburg Area High school board was proactive in implementing its own delay of winter sports activities. By coincidence, at its meeting Wednesday night, the HAHS board had voted to delay the start of winter sports activities until Jan. 4 as well.

“We sort of prepared for this, we had heard rumors over the past couple of days that it might happen,” Hollidaysburg athletic director and head football coach Homer DeLattre said. “Fortunately for us, our school board on Wednesday night approved a plan with the same exact timeline of not returning to sports until Jan. 4.

“I’ll say that Governor Wolf maybe copied our plan,” DeLattre said with a chuckle.

The safety of athletes, coaches and spectators is the top priority right now, everybody agreed.

“Absolutely, the safety of not only our student-athletes, but of their families and of the people in our community, is the most important thing right now,” Williamsburg Community High School athletic director Bob Hearn said. “It’s unfortunate for the student-athlete, and I know that people are disappointed, but sometimes, you have to take a look at the bigger picture.

“The (COVID) cases are going up, and the situation is not better than it was three months, two months or one month ago. I’d love to see the kids play, but measures have to be taken to protect people.”

Bellwood-Antis, like Williamsburg, was planning to start its winter sports practices this upcoming Monday, but B-A athletic director Charlie Burch said that the governor’s decision Thursday was totally understandable.

“Right now, COVID is very, very serious in our area, so I’m going to support (Wolf’s decision),” Burch said. “Hopefully, within the next three weeks, things will calm down, and we can get things underway.”

Scheduling can be a challenge for athletic directors under the best of circumstances. The pandemic creates an entire new hurdle.

Both Hearn and Burch said that they plan to maintain a heavy emphasis on maintaining conference games on the schedules for their school’s boys and girls basketball teams – all of which compete in the Inter-County Conference North Division.

“I foresee a little bit of a mess in the next few weeks, and some interesting conversations and emails (with other athletic directors) in order to sort everything out,” Burch said. “We will probably make the league schedule a priority, then go from there.

“Our basketball teams are in the ICC North, so it would be a priority to get those 14 division games in — two apiece against each of the other seven division teams,” Burch added.

Riccio said that the schedules of some of Altoona’s winter sports teams will need to be adjusted, while the schedules of other teams will require a thorough change.

“For our (varsity boys and girls basketball) teams that play in the Mid-Penn (Conference), those schedules will have to be adjusted again,” Riccio said. “For our teams that aren’t in leagues, it’s (a case of) pretty much starting over with the schedules.”

Altoona and some other schools around the area had already begun winter sports practices before Wolf’s announcement Thursday. Those practices will count toward the 15-practice day requirement. Even so, the earliest that any Altoona winter sports team could start competition is probably Friday, Jan. 15.

Playoffs will be pushed back until well into March as well, if a season is held at all.

“I am hoping that, even with the late start, we will be able to get in an eight or nine-week season,” DeLattre said.

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