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Four unanswered questions about PIAA sports during COVID-19 pandemic

CHRIS HARLAN
(Greensburg) Tribune-Review (TNS)
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Here are a few unanswered questions regarding PIAA sports and COVID-19:

When can Pennsylvania high school teams resume workouts?

For now, PIAA teams must wait until July 1 to start working out together, since Gov. Tom Wolf has school buildings closed for the rest of this school year in response to the covid-19 pandemic.

The 2019-20 school calendar ends June 30.

However, the PIAA is working to move that date sooner for schools in counties designated “green” in Wolf’s color-coded reopening system, if the governor approves. But first, the PIAA has requested safety guidelines from Wolf and the state departments of health and education for use by the schools.

Eighteen counties entered the green phase last week and 14 more are scheduled to join them Friday.

Pa. Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said Monday: “I believe more guidance will come out this week.”

What will the governor’s guidelines say?

The guidelines are likely to include requirements for social distancing, athlete screenings and other restrictions intended to prevent spread of covid-19.

So far, a number of national sports organizations have issued return-to-sports guidelines, including a 16-page document by the National Federation of State High School Associations. PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi said the lengthy list was shown to Wolf’s staff, but Lombardi called some of the NFHS requirements “very questionable.”

Under the NFHS guidelines, players shouldn’t pass a basketball, hand off a football or share a baseball bat when sports workouts first resume. Also, workouts should be limited to no more than 10 people, whether indoors or out.

The NFHS guidelines covered everything from pre-workout screening, limitations on gathering sizes, requirements for cleaning facilities, the safe use of athletic equipment and athlete hydration. If the state adopts guidelines similar to the NFHS, contact sports could face some serious resistance.

“If you read the (NFHS) guidelines, you’re not going to play any sports,” New Castle athletic director Sam Flora said Friday. “After reading a couple of pages, you might as well pack it in.”

How have other states approached workouts?

Our neighbor to the west already let all high school sports teams resume offseason conditioning.

With guidance from Gov. Mike DeWine, the Ohio High School Athletic Association announced May 29 that non-contact sports could resume competition and contact sports (such as football) could begin skill training and conditioning workouts.

The OHSAA adopted sections of the NFHS guidelines, including a red/yellow/green system for restarting sports with the first two phases each lasting a minimum of 14 days. During the first phase, locker rooms cannot be used and sports equipment should not be shared among students, among other restrictions.

Coaches and athletes should have their temperature checked and be screened for covid-19 symptoms prior to every workout.

Like Ohio, once workouts resume in Pennsylvania, the sessions will be strictly voluntary. The PIAA does not allow official practices or mandatory workouts during the offseason.

Will there be high school sports in the fall?

That’s the plan. Lombardi has said multiple times that he’s “optimistic” interscholastic sports — including football — will be played as scheduled come fall, assuming school buildings reopen as expected.

“Absolutely, I’m optimistic,” Lombardi said May 17. “I’m cautiously optimistic that school and our (athletics) program is going to start on time.”

That start date is about two months away.

Football teams are scheduled to start heat acclimatization Aug. 10. The first official practice date for all fall sports teams is Aug. 17.

Asked last week whether high school sports would look different in the fall, Wolf said: “I think everything’s going to look different in the fall.”

“What does a (college football) white out at Penn State look like in the fall (with) 120,000 people packed together?” Wolf asked. “Can we do that and stay safe?”

As for high schools, Wolf said: “I think every single high school and middle school and elementary school in the commonwealth is thinking about how can we get back to as close to normal as we can be and keep people safe. Keep the parents safe. Keep the staff safe. Keep the kids safe.”