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State lawmakers question data used to recommend PIAA sports shutdown

CHRIS HARLAN
The (Greensburg) Tribune Review (TNS)
Rep. Seth Grove

Republican state lawmakers are questioning the specific data — or lack thereof — that Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration used to recommend shutting down youth sports this fall.

Wolf issued a “strong recommendation” interscholastic and recreational youth sports be postponed until Jan. 1, but members of the Republican House Caucus criticized that decision Monday in a joint statement. One of those legislators, state Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover, released a Right to Know Law request he filed for relevant “public health data and models” that came back empty.

“The fact that data was not used to make the recommendation by the governor to cancel sports this upcoming semester begs the question about what other policies from the governor were made without any data or science to support them?” Grove said in Monday’s statement.

The lawmakers’ statement comes a day before PIAA administrators will meet Tuesday with the PIAA Athletic Oversight Committee, a bipartisan panel of state legislators.

“The governor’s announcement to stop all high school sports until Jan. 1 came as a complete shock to students, parents and even PIAA officials,” state Rep. Mike Reese, R-Westmoreland, said in the statement.

Reese is a member of the PIAA Athletic Oversight Committee, which includes both senators and representatives.

Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine has said there was no “granular data” available detailing youth sports and covid-19 in Pennsylvania. Levine instead cited information about infection rates and illness in adolescents available nationally, some by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Asked Monday about the lawmakers’ criticism, Wolf reiterated that his guidance was only a recommendation, but pointed to the number of colleges shutting down fall sports.

“The PIAA will do what they want to do and the school districts will do what they want to do,” Wolf said. “I’m giving guidance here. But I think it’s interesting to note that the Big Ten and the Pac-10, they’ve all basically said that they’re not going to do fall sports — football especially. We’re all looking at the same thing.”

Wolf reiterated that if his daughters were still in high school, he wouldn’t let them run cross country, a position he voiced last week.

“I’d say I don’t feel comfortable having you participate in sport,” Wolf said Monday. “What we’re trying to do here is make it as clear as possible that our schools can open. That should be our priority for all Pennsylvanians.”

Along with Grove and Reese, the Republican statement also voiced opposition from state Reps. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre/Mifflin, Curt Sonney, R-Erie, Jesse Topper, R-Bedford and Mike Peifer, R-Pike/Wayne. Benninghoff is House Majority Leader and Sonney is chairman of the House Education Committee.

Reese and Topper introduced legislation last week related to the youth sports shutdown. Reese’s legislation guarantees local school districts would decide whether sports are played this fall, not the governor or state legislature. Topper’s bill essentially gives students a redshirt year similar to colleges.

“From the beginning of this pandemic, the Wolf administration has been making decisions that impact the lives and livelihoods of thousands of Pennsylvanians without involving the people’s representatives in the legislature and without concern for the unintended consequences of wide-ranging and inconsistent orders, guidance, and recommendations,” Benninghoff said.

“Thanks to the strong work of Rep. Grove, we now know that the administration has made the unilateral decision to strongly recommend the cancellation of fall sports without the Department of Health having any corresponding data to justify their decision.”