Ahead of kickoff, Wolf punts on new sports fan rule

Central York's Taylor Wright-Rawls catches the ball for a 50 plus yard gain on Red Lion in the Panthers' first play of their first possession,  Friday, September 13, 2019
John A. Pavoncello photo

A day before the high school football season officially kicked off, York-Adams League school districts had little new guidance about how many fans could they could allow into their stadiums on game day.

That was even following comments made the previous day by Gov. Tom Wolf indicating he would reconsider his limits on spectators, as well as a recent federal ruling that struck down many of Wolf's COVID-19 restrictions.

On Wednesday, Wolf said that the Pennsylvania Department of Education would release an update Thursday or Friday to his limits on outdoor and indoor gatherings, which had been set at 250 and 25, respectively.  

But no update had been announced by the Wolf administration as of 4 p.m. Thursday, and repeated calls to the state Department of Education were not returned.

That leaves schools with no definitive answer as to how many fans are allowed at games scheduled to begin Friday night.

Officials at some area schools, like many across the state, are concerned about violating Wolf's orders, regardless of the swirling political and legal questions. Most are also leery about ignoring recommendations from the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, District 3 and the Y-A League, which universally directed schools to follow the 250 outdoor and 25 indoor limits.

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Delone Catholic vs York Suburban during football action 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

Multiple athletic directors from districts in York County declined comment about the spectator issue, while noting that they have been instructed to follow Wolf's guidelines and planned to do so until they were given clearance to allow more spectators to attend games.

Wolf's apparent newfound willingness to reconsider the 250-person limit on outdoor events comes on the heels of Monday's ruling in federal court, which declared many of his shutdown orders unconstitutional.

State Attorney General Josh Shapiro has asked U.S. District Judge William Stickman IV to delay enforcement of his own ruling pending Wolf's appeal.

Wolf said Wednesday, though, he planned to work with the Pennsylvania Department of Education to get schools a new set of spectator guidelines swiftly, based on the judge's ruling.

"This is not something that's way down the road or we're just going to say, 'Let's stonewall until we get an appeal,'" Wolf said. "We're actually trying to figure out what we can do to give guidance quickly to the school districts while we're going through this process."

On Sept. 10, Wolf vowed to veto a bill that would allow schools to determine for themselves how many spectators could attend their games. The state House passed the bill 155-47 and the Senate passed it 39-11.

On Sept. 2, the same day the bill passed the House, the guidance for schools on Wolf's website was changed regarding spectators.

Previously, no spectators were allowed under the mandate.

The revised version created the 250-person limit for outdoor events, which includes the athletes, coaches and officials in the total number.

York-Adams League schools had planned to vote on how many spectators would be allowed to attend games on Friday, but the vote was canceled after the PIAA requested member schools follow Wolf's 250-person limit until the political process had played out.

Multiple Y-A League schools announced plans to allow limited spectators to this weekend's games — which typically include only parents of players, as well as cheerleaders and band members of the home teams — in an effort to stay under the 250-person limit.

No visiting fans will be allowed at contests, and all games will be livestreamed.

— Reach Rob Rose at rrose@yorkdispatch.com.