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At hearing, PIAA boss says his organization wants to move forward with fall sports

CHRIS HARLAN
The (Greensburg) Tribune Review (TNS)
Bob Lombardi

The PIAA wants to move forward with fall sports, executive director Bob Lombardi told state legislators Tuesday, an early indication that Gov. Tom Wolf’s recommendation may be ignored.

“It is worth at least attempting to pursue a fall sports program,” said Lombardi, who discussed the status of high school athletics during a hearing before the Pennsylvania Athletic Oversight Committee, a bipartisan group of state lawmakers that convened via video conference.

“We would like to move forward with the start of fall sports,” Lombardi added. “It is important to make this attempt.”

The PIAA board will decide Friday whether to allow sports to continue against the guidance of Wolf’s administration, which wants youth sports shut down until at least Jan. 1 over COVID-19 concerns.

However, Lombardi argued that the governor’s staff provided “no specific medical or research reason that would suggest participation in interscholastic sports inherently increases that risk.”

The PIAA provided legislators with COVID-19 screening data Lombardi said was compiled by athletic trainers before summer workouts. The sample, which included 30,300 screenings, identified 55 athletes who had an elevated temperature. Of those, only four tested positive for COVID-19, he said.

Lombardi acknowledged that the data wasn’t a systematic study but rather a sample of what’s happening across the state.

“While we certainly cannot guarantee that problems will not arise, we believe we’ve developed a reasonably safe environment for competition at the interscholastic level,” Lombardi said.

Lombardi stressed that a shutdown of interscholastic athletics won’t eliminate the risk of coronavirus spread among youth athletes this fall because private sports teams and clubs will continue to operate.

“Come fall, if schools are unable to engage in sports and absent another mandatory shutdown, families and students will not stop playing,” Lombardi said. “They will simply find other outlets.”

Lombardi highlighted areas where the PIAA needs state help. Currently, the governor has a 25-person limit on indoor gatherings and a complete ban on spectators at interscholastic sports contests.

Lombardi requested relief from both.

Rather than 25 individuals, Lombardi suggested raising the indoor limit for gyms and swimming pools to 25% of capacity. The PIAA also wants to let at least two immediate family members attend as spectators.

If the PIAA board votes Friday to let sports move forward, individual school districts still must decide whether going against Wolf’s recommendation creates any potential legal liability. For that reason, Lombardi is seeking protection for schools.

“The administration providing legal immunity from any liability from COVID-19 would really change the landscape for our schools,” Lombardi said. “On behalf of our schools, we have contacted our insurance council to inquire if this type of insurance coverage is available and what is the cost of the premium and the deductible.

“We are researching this as we speak today. However, preliminary information may indicate this type of coverage may be cost prohibitive.”