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Altoona says it’s complying with Mid-Penn mask rule

Boys basketball team criticized on Twitter

Friday night turned out to be a tough one for the Altoona boys basketball program.

The Mountain Lions traveled to Carlisle and lost their season opener, 83-45. Later that night, two pictures of players on their bench not wearing their masks properly were posted on Twitter by Jake Adams, the sports editor at the Carlisle Sentinel.

“Hey @AltoonaAthletic, @Mid_Penn, where’s the enforcement of the mask policy during this game. Multiple players in-game and on bench going long stretches without masks anywhere near mouths/nose. And why aren’t officials enforcing this? Last I checked, the pandemic’s hardly over,” Adams wrote in the post with the two pictures.

Two different photos showed three Altoona players sitting on the bench with masks on their chins while other players sat behind them wearing masks properly. Adams said other pictures in Carlisle’s photo gallery also showed Altoona players not wearing masks properly.

The post went viral and got more than 1,090 comments, 216 retweets and more than 80 likes from people across the country. Many of the comments were in support of the players, some were critical of Altoona and others criticized Adams.

The Mid-Penn Conference, which both Altoona and Carlisle play in, adopted a rule for this season that masks must be worn during competition. There is no blanket PIAA rule regarding masks, as the PIAA has left the decision up to individual school districts.

“I have watched five games streamed so far, and that was the first where it was that blatant,” Adams said. “I felt it needed to be said, because the Mid-Penn has this rule out there. They want their schools to comply, and a point I want to get across too is that Carlisle has had issues staying open. They started their football season a week later than everyone. Their fall season was shut down for two weeks in all sports, and they started winter practices after almost everyone else here. They have been fighting to get what they can in, and then a team comes into their gym and just ignores everything. What if one of their kids is sick and doesn’t know it and passes it to a Carlisle kid? They shut down.”

Mountain Lions athletic director Phil Riccio said Altoona’s official mask policy is that student athletes do not have to wear them during competitions, but that when the school plays Mid-Penn competition, it will comply to the Mid-Penn’s rule.

“We have the exception to not wear a mask during competition,” Riccio said. “That’s from our doctor from our solicitor from our board. We have the exception to not wear them. The Mid-Penn has voted that masks must be worn during competition. So, we are complying with the Mid-Penn even though we have the exception not to.”

Riccio said he saw Adams’ Twitter post and commented on what he saw in the photos.

“The picture of those kids are kids coming off the court with a mask on playing for however many minutes, coming to the bench and taking their mask off to catch their breath,” Riccio said. “That’s because it is difficult to breathe in competition with those masks on. They are doing the healthy thing by catching their breath. As you can see, the kids behind them who weren’t in have their masks on properly.”

Unless its opponent requires it, Altoona will not wear a mask in its non-conference competition.

“When we play schools that are not in the Mid-Penn, our kids will not have masks on during competition,” Riccio said. “You will never see our gymnasts wearing masks during competition, because it will affect their peripheral vision, and that would become even more of a safety hazard because of the heights they are at and the things they are trying to accomplish. When we are competing against schools outside of the Mid-Penn, we have the exception to not wear masks during competition. Now the coaches will have them on, and the players will have them on when they come to the bench, but during actual play outside of the Mid-Penn, no masks.”

Adams was not at Friday’s game and was covering it by watching on the internet.

“I’m covering games from home, because I have members of my household that are at risk,” Adams said. “I’m trying to limit exposure for them, and we had a photographer at that game. I was seeing on the livestream, which was grainy, what I thought was three kids pretty consistently running around on the court and on the bench for Altoona with their masks down around their neck or chin. There would be a minute or two where they did put their mask back up, but if I were to estimate, at least half of the time, at least on the court, the mask wasn’t on where it’s supposed to be.

“I completely get masks moving around when you are in action and running around, but it was actively off and what looked like negligence. Our photographer was there, and I asked him if Altoona players were wearing their masks. He took a photo of some of them of three of them without it on. He took another one, and I made sure he was OK with me putting them on Twitter, and he said fine, so I did, because it was confirming what I saw on the livestream.”

Many of the comments on the post were personal attacks on Adams, but he said he’s trying not to take anything to heart.

“I’m not letting it bother me,” Adams said. “There’s nothing I can do when certain groups want to hijack a social media post for their own reasons.”

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