Adhering to Wolf's recommendation, Philly league postpones high school sports until 2021

The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)

The Philadelphia Public League on Monday suspended all interscholastic athletic competition until Jan. 1 in accordance with recommendations from Gov. Wolf as well as the Pennsylvania departments of health and education.

The decision was announced in an email from Philadelphia school district athletic director James Lynch to athletic directors at schools across the city. The postponement will impact thousands of athletes across Philadelphia in sports such as football, soccer, field hockey, golf, tennis, cross-country and volleyball.

“I know this decision is hard for everyone -- especially our student athletes -- and I want you all to know this was not taken lightly,” Lynch wrote in his email. “Our PPL Return to Play COVID-19 task force has been meeting on a weekly basis since June to consider all options to return safely to the field of play and through our continued discussions we recognized the many challenges -- both from a health and safety standpoint and logistical barriers -- that putting on a season will entail.

“With the Governor’s Office, the Department of Health and the Department of Education jointly releasing strong recommendations last week, we felt we needed to act to put the health and safety of our student athletes, coaches and staff as our top priority.

“We worked through the week with the City Health Commissioner’s office on this decision and we feel it is in the best interest of the health and safety of our stakeholders.”

The news crushed any hopes city public-school athletes had of playing sports this fall.

“It’s awful,” said Tatyana Roldan, standout senior field hockey player at Northeast High. “I was holding out hope, seeing the pro athletes and I was thinking, ‘Maybe we can do this?'

“It’s a huge disappointment.”

Northeast senior football star Zaire McLaurin, a Central Michigan recruit, said the decision could create safety risks for athletes.

“It’s kind of scary,” McLaurin said. “I worry about some of my teammates. If they are not going to be at football practice, where are they going to be?”

Lynch said the Public League would look to revisit the decision if recommendations from the governor’s office were to change. In the meantime, officials in the city will work to develop a “virtual program” to assist athletes with training and provide support.

“Our focus in the immediate future will be on developing a robust virtual program this fall to engage our student-athletes in a meaningful way as it pertains to NCAA eligibility, sports leadership programming, post-secondary readiness and health and wellness programming, in addition to providing a plan to provide individualized skill building and fitness workouts when permitted to resume safely,” Lynch said.

The Philadelphia School District announced earlier this month plans for virtual learning through Nov. 17 at the earliest, a development that raised doubts about the possibility to stage sports if students were not allowed back in buildings.

Lynch said Public League officials will work with PIAA to develop alternate schedules in an effort to stage fall sports after the new year. Several states have announced plans to try to hold sports such as football in the spring, condensing all three seasons into the period between January and June.

“I’m hoping it’s possible that we can have something where we can do all three seasons after the new year,” said Gratz athletic director and football coach Erik Zipay. “A lot of other states have come up with similar plans.”

The decision comes three days after the PIAA, which oversees high school sports in the commonwealth, announced plans to delay fall sports for two weeks to seek additional “dialogue” with the governor’s office as well as the state legislature.

The PIAA said Friday it remained committed to trying to stage fall sports before the new year.

Gov. Wolf said Thursday morning that he was recommending that no youth sports be held before Jan. 1. Later on Thursday, the administration released a joint statement from the departments of health and education that included a “strong recommendation” that no school-sponsored or recreational youth sports be held before the new year.

“It’s not a shocker,” said McLaurin, a linebacker for Northeast’s powerful squad. “I kind of had it in the back of my mind. I know our safety is more important than football but now I’m hoping we can have some kind of season in the spring.”