PIAA: High school sports might return sooner if schools prepare COVID-19 plans now

(Greensburg) Tribune-Review (TNS)
Bob Lombardi

The PIAA wants schools to use this downtime wisely.

It’s unclear when Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration will release COVID-19 guidelines to restart interscholastic sports, but in the meantime, the PIAA is asking school administrators to start making plans for their own districts, PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi said Friday.

That way, once the state-approved guidelines do arrive, sports might resume sooner.

In a letter posted online Friday, the PIAA provided links to COVID-19 information already available from various sources, including the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the National Federation of State High School Associations, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and UPMC.

“If you haven’t already started thinking about formulating a plan, please do,” Lombardi said. “You’re not going to have a complete plan done until you see what comes out (from the state), but at least you can have a lot of things ready for consideration.

“And then it won’t take so long (to implement) and maybe we could turn it around quicker.”

The PIAA reiterated in Friday’s letter that it won’t clear teams to resume voluntary offseason workouts without COVID-19 guidance from the governor’s office. A state spokesman said Thursday that the departments of education and health would confer with the PIAA and release more information this coming week.

“We will make ourselves available to those groups to help however we can,” Lombardi said. “I am optimistic that it will be sooner rather than later.”

Planning focus: The PIAA encouraged schools to focus their planning on the areas of pre-workout screening, group size limits, facility sanitation, permitted types of physical activity, use of athletic equipment and individualized hydration. Lombardi said the PIAA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee believes a one-size-fits-all approach won’t necessarily work for all school districts.

Schools should take the CDC, NFHS or other guidelines and make them fit what their individual community needs, he said.

“Some schools might have 15 sports. Some might have six,” Lombardi said. “You may have 1,000 athletes while some of our smaller schools have 50 kids.”

This effort isn’t meant to replace guidelines coming from the state but would give schools a chance to start making plans now.

“If you guys aren’t thinking about a plan, why don’t you think about starting one?” Lombardi said. “Take a look at the highlighted areas. Maybe cut and paste, and change a couple of things to fit your needs. I was trying to help our ADs so that they don’t have to sit down and start from scratch and put something together that they’re not comfortable doing.

“They can rely on some of these guidelines.”

On hold since March 13: PIAA teams were prohibited from working out together since Wolf closed school buildings March 13, a week before most spring sports seasons were scheduled to start. That shutdown was extended April 9, when Wolf ordered buildings to remain closed for the rest of the school year.

The pandemic forced the PIAA to cancel its basketball tournaments, swimming championships and all spring sports.

The 2019-20 school year ends this month, so July 1 was set at the tentative restart date for PIAA teams.

However, the PIAA board voted last month to let schools resume offseason workouts on a county-by-county basis — once the governor approves — rather than force teams to sit and wait for the entire state to enter the green phase.

Board is optimistic: The board was optimistic some schools would resume workouts before July, but that was never guaranteed.

“I would be hopeful that it would be earlier,” Lombardi said, but pointed out that education department guidelines released Wednesday prevent schools from resuming in-person education until July 1.

The governor could delay sports until then as well.