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PIAA delays start of fall sports season, seeks negotiations with Wolf

ROB ROSE
717-505-5418/@robrosesports
York High's Tyrell Whitt is tackled by a host of Central York defenders, Friday October 25, 2019.
John A. Pavoncello photo

For now at least, fall sports will be played in Pennsylvania this year.

The PIAA board of directors passed a motion Friday to delay the start of the fall sports season by two weeks while the organization tries to negotiate a plan with Gov. Tom Wolf's administration that would see high school athletics played in some capacity this year. 

"We're going to reach out to the governor's office and see if we can meet with either staff or himself and see if we can have some discussion about what was stated yesterday," PIAA executive director Robert Lombardi told reporters following Friday's decision.

Lombardi said  PIAA representatives had spoken to Wolf's staff members in the previous 24 hours but not Wolf himself.

Under the PIAA motion, heat acclimation can begin  Aug. 24, but school districts can decide if their schools can continue offseason workouts until that time. The PIAA board of directors will meet again on Aug. 21.

The PIAA's Friday decision was forced after Wolf announced during his Thursday  news conference about COVID-19 testing that youth sports should be paused until the new year.

"The guidance from us, the recommendation is that we don't do any sports until Jan. 1," Wolf said.

Those comments from Wolf blindsided the PIAA, which had been waiting for guidance about if spectators could attend interscholastic athletic events this fall and had no plans to shut down the fall sports season.

On Thursday afternoon, the PIAA went into an emergency board of directors meeting at 2:30 p.m. and later announced the organization would meet again Friday afternoon to make an official statement after Wolf's recommendation.

"Today, Gov. Wolf issued a statement of strongly recommending no interscholastic and recreational sports until Jan. 1," Thursday's unsigned PIAA release said. "We are tremendously disappointed in this decision. Our member schools have worked diligently to develop health and safety plans to allow students the safe return to interscholastic athletics."

While the PIAA — which voted to move forward with fall sports late last month — met to discuss the state of school sports on Thursday afternoon, Wolf, the Pennsylvania Department of Health and Pennsylvania Department of Education jointly announced a "strong recommendation" that no youth sports be played prior to Jan. 1. In the announcement, school and non-school sports were advised to stop, but pro and college sports could continue.

Republicans in the state Legislature, who have long criticized Wolf’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, demanded Thursday that the governor provide justification for his surprise comment. Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, filed Right to Know requests seeking documents that supported Wolf’s pronouncement, which Grove labeled as ‘haphazard’ in a news release.

During his Zoom media session following Friday's meeting, Lombardi stopped short of saying the organization would continue with the fall sports season without Wolf's approval but did reiterate that the governor's statement on Thursday was not an order.

"We would like to have full support; however, it was a recommendation," Lombardi said. "It wasn't a mandate and it wasn't an order. If it was an order, we probably wouldn't be having the discussion we're having here today."

Wolf's office didn't  respond Friday to requests for comment. 

Delone Catholic's Joe Hernanadez, center, fumbles the ball during football action against York Suburban at York Suburban Senior High School in Spring Garden Township, Friday, Aug. 30, 2019. York Suburban would win the game 42-14. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Wolf's recommendation Thursday morning came just an hour after members of the York-Adams League voted to delay the fall sports season until mid-September, following the decision of other leagues in the area.

Later Thursday, Y-A League Executive Director Chuck Abbott said in an email that Wolf's comments would not change the league's plan to have a fall sports season. That answer came before the PIAA went into an emergency meeting.

Under the Y-A League's plan, official football practices would begin Sept. 4, with heat acclimation starting  Aug. 31, and the first games would be on Sept. 18. No scrimmages are allowed under the league's decision.

Golf would begin on Sept. 7; tennis would begin on Sept. 9; and all other sports would begin on Sept. 24. All contests for the fall will be league-only games, according to the plan. The schedules for fall sports will be released at a later time, league officials said.

Friday's PIAA motion would not alter the Y-A League's schedule.

On Wednesday, the Lancaster-Lebanon League voted 19-6 to push back the start date of most fall sports.

Also last week, the Harrisburg-based Mid-Penn Conference announced it was delaying the start of fall sports practices until Sept. 4.

— Reach Rob Rose at rrose@yorkdispatch.com.