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PIAA approves start of fall sports season, practices can begin Monday

ROB ROSE
717-505-5418/@robrosesports
York Suburban's Savion Harrison, left, celebrates after scoring the first touchdown of the game during football action against Delone Catholic 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

After weeks of debate, fall high school sports will begin Monday.

The PIAA board of directors voted Friday afternoon 25-5 to continue with the scheduled start of the fall sports season for schools in the state that are permitted and willing to participate.

Friday's PIAA decision rejects the recommendation of Gov. Tom Wolf's administration to delay any youth sports until 2021. Wolf has reiterated that he believes sports should wait until the new year in an effort to ensure kids can receive an in-person education this fall. 

"We know there is no guarantees, there's no guarantees in anything, but we're at least making the attempt to try, and if it doesn't go well and we shut down, we'll do it," PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi told reporters after the meeting. "Because everybody knows health and safety of everyone is first and foremost. We have said that from the start, but we're also an athletic association that are advocates for young people ... and we think we owed it to (everyone involved) to try."

Multiple York County schools are either going to start the year with a hybrid online and in-person plan or have recently discussed alternate options for school to reopen. On Thursday night, the Dallastown school board debated its superintendent's recommendation that schools operate virtually and fall sports be canceled, before the motion was eventually tabled.

Lombardi has said that whether students are learning in a classroom or at a computer screen, they should be eligible to play sports this fall. Wolf previously said it would be hard to justify kids participating in contact sports if they weren't able to safely meet in schools.

At this time, Lombardi said no spectators are allowed for the fall season. He added that he hopes there will be a change to that prior to the start of games next month that would allow at least the athletes' parents, but nothing is imminent.

Additionally, Lombardi said the PIAA is still looking at options for how schools could acquire liability insurance if an individual has health issues after contracting COVID-19.

The back and forth between Wolf and the PIAA really heated up earlier this month after a statement made by Wolf during a COVID-19 news conference. A question was asked about the potential for the limit of 250 people at an outdoor gathering to be adjusted for high school football games, and Wolf took that opportunity to make his "strong recommendation" known.

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

That comment forced the PIAA board of directors into an emergency meeting, and after another meeting the following day, the PIAA announced it would delay the start of the fall season to Monday and try to open a dialogue with Wolf to discuss his recommendation.

Lombardi said Aug. 7 that while the organization preferred to be on the same page as the governor, his announcement was not technically something by which the PIAA had to abide.

"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."

Since then, the PIAA has made multiple failed attempts to convince Wolf to change his recommendation. The organization sent a letter to his office and met with members of his staff but never Wolf himself. 

Recently, New Jersey and Ohio have approved the start of fall sports seasons, while other states in the middle of the country have already began their fall campaigns.

Wolf's recommendation on Aug. 6 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.

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.

— Reach Rob Rose at rrose@yorkdispatch.com.