York County lawmakers sound off on Wolf's sports recommendation

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

Republican lawmakers have panned Gov. Tom Wolf's Thursday morning statement recommending that all scholastic sports be postponed until 2021, the first broad-based recommendation from the governor regarding fall sports.

After holding two emergency meetings and scrambling to respond to the governor's latest announcement, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association announced Friday it would delay the start of the fall sports season by two weeks but ultimately continue with plans to offer sports to students.

State Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, said Friday that he submitted a series of Right to Know requests to the state's Department of Health and Department of Education for documents showing the data on which Wolf based his no-sports recommendation.

"If the administration isn’t willing to share their information and data, I don’t see why PIAA, the schools or (recreational) leagues should follow that recommendation at all," Grove said Friday before the PIAA announced its decision, which seeks talks with the Wolf administration.

Rep. Mike Jones, R-York Township, said some students need sports to remain engaged with their school work, while others are pursuing athletic scholarships and other opportunities. 

Jones reiterated that Wolf's guidance was framed as a recommendation, not an order, and that school districts and sports associations should make their own decisions based on what's best for their students.

"The governor continues to make things up as he goes along," Jones said. "It’s very inconsistent messaging."

On Friday, some Republicans in the Legislature urged PIAA's board to ignore Wolf's recommendation outright and continue with its plan for fall sports as regularly scheduled.

After the PIAA announced its decision, Sen. Dave Arnold, R-Lebanon, told The York Dispatch he was pleased with the news.

Arnold said he understands Wolf is trying to protect children and young people, but he said the governor doesn't seem to understand how important school sports are in many students' lives.

"To very haphazardly take that away from them is just irresponsible," Arnold said.

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

More:High school sports officials scramble after Wolf calls for pause

Returning Red Lion starter Elijah Workinger, #11, takes part in defensive drills during the first official day of fall sports practice, Monday, August 13, 2018. John A. Pavoncello photo

But not all York County legislators took issue with the governor's statement.

Rep. Carol Hill-Evans, D-York City, said she didn't think there was anything inappropriate about the governor's recommendation and that he still left the final decision up to the school districts.

Hill-Evans said school board members are facing tough decisions about what to do and that there are still a lot of unknowns about the coronavirus.

And the governor is in a no-win situation as far as the public response to his leadership, Hill-Evans said.

"What kind of response would there be if he made no recommendation, all the schools went back out and the numbers went through the roof, and our children, as a result of playing these sports, became infected with this virus," she said. "What will their response be then?"

Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York Township, said Wolf has sewn confusion by using the terms "recommendation" and "requirement" interchangeably throughout the pandemic.

She also said it has been challenging for school districts to adapt when the governor keeps moving the goal posts.

"I think there’s just a lot of concern about what else is going to happen going forward," Phillips-Hill said.

In a statement Friday, before the PIAA announced its decision, Rep. Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township, said Wolf's last-minute comments Thursday caused "unnecessary chaos" for the families of student athletes.

"The governor’s statement that school and youth sports should be canceled for the rest of the year blindsided student-athletes, families and school administrators," Saylor stated. "This is just the latest example of his often-arbitrary orders that at times appear to be plucked out of  thin air."

More:HEISER: Wolf's comments, Maryland's decision, league delays don't bode well for fall contact sports