Friday, August 21, 2020 | 3:36 PM
High school football season starts Monday, along with soccer, cross country, girls volleyball and all other PIAA fall sports.
The PIAA board of directors ignored Gov. Tom Wolf’s strong recommendation and voted Friday to let fall sports start as scheduled, but the PIAA left the responsibility with individual school districts to decide whether to play.
The vote was 25-5.
“We know there are no guarantees, but we’re at least making the attempt to try,” PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi said. “If it doesn’t go well and we have to shut down, we’ll do it, because everybody knows health and safety of everyone is first and foremost.
“But we’re also an athletic association that advocates for young people,” Lombardi added. “We think we owed it to our member schools, our athletes and the coaches, athletic directors, administrators, parents and community to try.”
Football teams can start heat acclimatization Monday. All other fall sports can begin practice that day.
In a separate vote, the PIAA board unanimously agreed to monitor the number of schools that decide to move forward, and adjust plans if needed. The PIAA could have an alternate fall season in the spring for certain regions, if a large number of teams are unable to compete now.
If so, there would be two fall seasons.
“The board recognized that there may be areas of the state that are shut down for a good period of time,” Lombardi said. “As the board stated all the way back in May, we want to provide as many opportunities for students to participate as possible.”
While the PIAA board answered the big question, others remain. How many school districts will cancel fall sports on their own over legal liability concerns? Will spectators be allowed? What will be done with fall sports if seasons are shut down after only a few weeks?
Lombardi said contingency plans for a shutdown will be finalized later, if they’re needed. Spectators aren’t allowed at interscholastic events unless the governor lifts his ban. And as for schools shutting down sports on their own, Lombardi said he believes a “large majority” will play.
So far, only three WPIAL schools have canceled at least some fall sports: Uniontown, Summit Academy and Neighborhood Academy.
“When we paused two weeks ago, the homework assignment for everybody (on the board) was to go back and really solicit information from their schools,” Lombardi said. “The information that we were provided was there seems to be a large majority of people that are going to participate. That may differ in an area or two of the state.”
He said the PIAA intends to hold postseason competitions this fall, “but that may be something we can’t get in.”
The PIAA hasn’t established guidelines for what to do when a team has a covid-19 case. Instead, the team should follow guidelines established for schools by the Department of Education for quarantine, Lombardi said, and confer with their local county health department.
Pittsburgh Public Schools athletic director Karen Arnold and Hopewell principal Michael Allison were among the five “no” votes. Also in opposition were members who represent school boards, principals and superintendents. Allison, the WPIAL treasurer, is president of the Pennsylvania Principals Association.
“I strongly believe that as school administrators, we have a responsibility to follow the recommendation of the Department of Health, the governor and the Department of Education,” Allison said. “That recommendation was made. All of us have health and safety plans about following the recommendations.”
Pittsburgh Public School’s administration already recommended postponing its fall sports.
Department of Education representative Brian Campbell was one of two board members absent Friday. The state departments of education and health supported Wolf’s recommendation that youth sports be delayed to prevent potential coronavirus spread.
“While the administration expressed broad concern with the PIAA’s plans, including its request for liability protections, we’ve made it clear to them since July that this decision should be made by the PIAA in concert with local school districts,” Wolf’s spokesperson Lyndsay Kensinger said Friday. “The governor has a deep appreciation for the importance of athletics and the role sports play in the lives of student-athletes.”
However, Wolf’s guidance hasn’t changed. He wanted interscholastic and recreational youth sports postponed until at least Jan. 1.
“Every gathering outside the classroom jeopardizes a school’s ability to resume in-person instruction,” Kensinger said, “because it increases the risk of super-spreading events.”
Before Friday’s vote, PIAA board president Frank Majikes paused to publicly thank “thousands of individuals who have contacted all of us with recent emails, phone calls and letters. We certainly appreciate your input and we very much respect your opinions.”
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .