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Debate continues over start of football

The PIAA met for nearly five hours Wednesday, but the most passionate discussion came in the final hour when the status of the upcoming high school football season was mentioned.

With many counties moving into the yellow stage of reopening from the corona-virus pandemic and some hoping for a shift to green in the close future, the July 1 start date the PIAA set for offseason activities was dissected.

“We have to follow what the governor says, and that’s going to be our primary deal here, but many of us on the board are parents or grandparents. It’s my personal opinion that if athletes or students are allowed to participate as per the guidelines that are set forth, I don’t care what the date is,” PIAA Board member Bob Hartman said. “Kids should be able to start two weeks from now if cleared. We should not stop those kids. I have kids at home that would love to get out. Why should we deny any kid or group of kids if they are permitted? I understand the concern about state championships down the road and what is fair and what is equitable, but that’s six months from now. If we can let kids go, let’s let them go and be kids.”

Moments later, the PIAA voted unanimously to allow Executive Director Dr. Robert Lombardi to have the authority to allow offseason workouts before July 1 in some counties if permitted by Gov. Tom Wolf’s direction.

Some concern was expressed over the fairness in regard to competing for state championships if one region is allowed to go back to football activities a month before another, but the overriding view was on allowing kids who are permitted to take part in the sport they love to do so.

“The board gets a bad rap that they don’t care,” Lombardi said. “You saw and heard how committed they are to get kids back to doing what they like to do. That’s why this whole scenario of the last eight weeks has been so gut-wrenching for all of us. We like athletics as much as anyone else. We care. We want kids to get back to normalcy.”

Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic football coach Justin Wheeler, whose team played for the PIAA Class 1A championship last season and has a good chance to get back this year, agreed with the decision, even if it could mean his team might get a later start than teams the Marauders could run into in the state playoffs.

“I don’t see a problem with it, because locally, you will compete against those teams first,” Wheeler said. “If we had to compete against a team that was a month ahead of us in the first week or the second week, I think that would be a pretty big competitive advantage, but the teams we will be facing the first 10 weeks won’t have that advantage. Week 11, regardless of whether we start June 1 or July 1, we better be where we want to be. I think this is the best way to go, because of how different each area is.”

District 6 chairman Bill Marshall was in the meeting and one of the first to support Hartman’s statement.

“Do we need to have a state championship? Do we need to have a district championship?” Hartman said. “If they can only play five games, if it’s up to me, let them play whatever they can.”

Other meeting notes

N A switch of the fall and spring sports season was not discussed. Some across the state had floated the idea as a way of easing back into high school sports with competitions that involve less of a crowd, but others have expressed concern about having a football season in spring followed so quickly with another football season the next fall.

N The National Federation of State High School Associations recently released a list of guidelines for a return to sports that worried some across the area. The guidelines included teams avoiding drills where a player can throw a ball, but another player should not touch or catch that same ball. Lombardi, however, said the NFHS’s documents were suggestions more than laws set in stone.

“It’s a resource document for things to consider by state associations,” Lombardi said. “It’s not necessarily a guideline or a mandate. They are items to consider. We’ll forward it to (the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee) and let them consider items that we can take and items that are not so favorable.”

N A rule that would mean a player or coach could be suspended for two games if they were ejected through a supplemental disqualification, or in other words being thrown out after extremely bad behavior, is now just one reading from passing. Lombardi said recent officials’ reports have read like horror stories.

“It is ugly,” Lombardi said. “If a high school student said some of the things that have been directed towards officials in school, they would be on a five-day suspension if they did it in a classroom. It’s nasty. Football for years was at a reasonable number, but the past few years, we have been upwards of 250 (ejections). That’s playing just once a week. We’re tired of our officials and coaches being attacked.”

N The new format of 13 weights for high school wrestling is on hold until the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee reviews the new weight classes to determine whether or not they are safe. The PIAA hopes to discuss the findings at the June meeting.

N The Everett and Southern Fulton co-op for high school football was approved.

N The mercy rule which begins a running clock in high school basketball was reduced from a 40-point lead to a 30-point lead.

N The final appeals of the Dunmore and Delone Catholic girls and the Lincoln Park and Trinity boys basketball teams were rejected. All four teams will move up to Class 4A from 3A due to the success factor rule.

N Spring officials will get a $20 credit on next year’s officials fees.

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