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PIAA Institutes Two-Week Delay

Warren Area High School Head Football Coach Mark Morelli addresses his team during practice Friday at War Memorial Field regarding Gov. Tom Wolf’s Thursday recommendation that school sports be pushed back to January and PIAA’s Friday announcement that fall sports would be pushed back two weeks. P-J photo by Brian Ferry

Last month, it looked like high school sports in Pennsylvania would be starting on time.

That is no longer the case.

The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association said Friday that mandatory fall sports activities are “paused for a two-week period,” which means heat acclimatization week for football and official practices for all other sports will not start until Aug. 24.

The guidance comes in the wake of Gov. Tom Wolf’s statement Thursday when he said his office’s recommendation was that no youth or interscholastic sports be played in Pennsylvania until Jan. 1, 2021.

“The PIAA Board of Directors met this afternoon to review Governor Wolf’s statement. … As we have noted, our members schools have worked diligently to develop health and safety plans in accordance with the Department of Health and Department of Education recommendations to allow students to safely return to interscholastic sports,” PIAA said in a Friday afternoon release.

“The PIAA Board of Directors has heard the thousands of voices of student-athletes, parents, coaches and community leaders that have contacted us,” the PIAA added. “The board believes that the governor’s strong recommendation to delay sports until Jan. 1, 2021, has a potential negative impact on students’ physical, social, emotional and mental health. These issues along with the financial inability of many students to participate in any other form of non-school-based athletic programs affect all students directly or indirectly.”

The PIAA went on to say that it would work in collaboration with the governor’s office, Department of Health and Department of Education to further discuss fall sports.

Amy Stewart, Warren County School District superintendent, expressed her frustration Friday evening.

“I am beyond trying to predict actions and orders coming from outside of Warren County. We have been assured that decisions on closures and shutdowns will be made locally, and we have prepared to make those decisions based upon what is going on here in Warren County,” she said. “As the superintendent of this district, I will be extremely frustrated if decisions are made for us based primarily on data that does not represent the current situation in Warren County.”

Throughout the summer, individual school districts have developed plans intended to keep student-athletes safe during voluntary workouts, which have already been occurring.

“Based on currently known information, the committee believes that strict adherence by schools and teams to their school-adopted plans and the Governor’s School Sports Guidance should provide a reasonably safe environment for student-athletes to participate in interscholastic athletics as currently scheduled,” the PIAA added in its release.

The committee did say that voluntary workouts, per the governor’s guidance, and with local approval, may continue at this time.

“Preparation for the opening of school is a monumental task that needs our undivided time and attention. Knowing this, we prioritized time earlier in the summer to prepare and implement our Athletic Health and Safety Plan,” Stewart said. “We will hit pause, as required, but we are hopeful that we will receive timely information allowing us to keep our athletic programs and the start of school on track.”

Warren Area High School’s football team continued to take advantage of voluntary workouts Friday afternoon. Shortly after the PIAA clarified Wolf’s guidance, the Dragons gathered at War Memorial Field.

“The PIAA is on your side,” Warren coach Mark Morelli told his players. “They are trying to advocate for you guys. The hope from PIAA is that they can talk to Gov. Wolf’s administration.”

Now the team will wait another two weeks to see if their summer preparations will pay off on the field this fall.

“We’ll just have to wait and see. Even if we only get six to eight games, six to eight games is better than no games,” Morelli said. “We can only control what we can control. Keep your fingers crossed and hope for some good news.”

If Stewart and other local superintendents have any say in the matter, it seems fall seasons will happen.

“I would like to stress that if the district retains the ability to make decisions about shutting down programs or schools in Warren County,” she said, “those decisions will be based upon data and what is in the best interest of our staff, students and communities we serve.”

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