After nearly three months without games, practices or organized team workouts, Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday gave the go-ahead for the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) to start on plans to resume some of those activities, as long as schools have proper safety measures in place.
The guidelines from the Wolf administration are in effect for all school sports teams (elementary through 12th grade) and were accepted by the PIAA and in effect will reverse that body’s original start date of July 1 for offseason activities.
“We worked collaboratively with the governor and the Pennsylvania Department of Education,” PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Like anything, there was some give and take, but overall this is a good thing.
“This couldn’t be a ‘one size fits all’ thing, because every school, every community is so different. Individualized assessments need to be tailored to the needs of the school.”
ALL SCHOOLS in the yellow and green phases are allowed to begin offseason workouts immediately — pending approval from individual school districts — but those events will be limited to student-athletes, coaches, officials and staff only. The release goes on to say that “the addition of visitors and spectators will be contingent upon future health conditions within the state and local communities.”
Every school district in District 9 is currently located in a county that has already moved into the green phase.
A maximum of 250 people or 50% of the facility’s occupancy (whichever number is smaller) is allowed for gatherings in green counties.
Melissa Mertz, the PIAA associate executive director, told The Erie Times-News that the restriction of fans is in place now because events over the next two months would not involve spectators anyway and that those limitations could change in August with the resumption of the regular season.
As of now, the PIAA states that it has every intention of conducting all of the fall sports that are currently on the schedule.
The first official practice date for fall season is Aug. 17, though football teams can begin the heat acclimatization week beginning Aug. 10.
‘Week 0’ for football is set for Aug. 28, and remaining fall sports teams can start their seasons on Sept. 4, though activities like tennis and golf typically begin in late August, as well.
Other dates on the August calendar locally include the Big 30 Charities Classic on Aug. 1 and the Varischetti Game on Aug. 7.
It’s unclear what the state’s guidance means for either of those all-star games.
THE RELEASE lists 13 bullet points that school districts must adhere to when resuming athletic activities.
Among the most notable requirements, all coaches and adult personnel must wear face coverings unless doing so “jeopardizes” their health. Athletes will be screened before games and practices and if anyone shows symptoms, has a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher or is sick, he or she must be sent home.
Coaches and officials will also need to modify practices and games to mitigate the risk of spreading the virus. That includes focusing on “individual skill building” rather than competition and should also limit contact in close contact sports, according to the release.
And once those games and practices get underway, participants will have to develop new habits, as things like hand shakes, fist bumps or high-fives are prohibited before, during or after games and practices.
Team water coolers are banned as is congregating with teammates and coaches during down time.
Activities that “increase the risk of exposure to saliva” must not be allowed and chewing gum, spitting, licking fingers and eating sunflower seeds are banned.
“We know the virus is an evolving thing and there are new reports out all of the time,” Mertz said. “We will modify things as we go. If that means a condensed season or other changes we will adjust to make sure everyone is safe.”
A full list of the state’s guidelines that includes protocols for sharing equipment, cleaning of playing fields, a plan of action in case of a positive test and education about COVID-19 can be found at: governor.pa.gov/covid-19/sports-guidance.
WOLF’S announcement Wednesday wasn’t just limited to elementary and high school sports. The guidance also extended to collegiate athletics, as NCAA schools such as Penn State or Pittsburgh “can resume in-person activity after developing an athletic health and safety plan in alignment with (the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s) guidance.”
That is especially good news for the state’s college football programs, which typically begin a rigorous workout and practice schedule around this time each year.
Almost all of the same guidelines apply to professional sports teams, which can also resume immediately so long as a safety plan is in place.
Practice or play is still limited to fewer than 250 people, however, more can be approved to be on site as long as a safety plan is developed and approved by the Department of Health.
The NFL announced last week that teams would be holding their training camps at home rather than traveling to remote locations. Meanwhile, the NHL and NBA are exploring different “hub” cities to conduct their respective postseasons.
Major League Baseball is still working on a plan to begin its 2020 season, but Wolf’s announcement clears a path for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies to immediately begin hosting games at their ballparks without fans.