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Joining a growing list, Philadelphia Catholic League calls off fall sports

PHIL ANASTASIA
The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)
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The Philadelphia Catholic League on Monday joined the growing list of high school leagues in Southeastern Pennsylvania to shut down fall sports because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The decision to postpone competition for thousands of athletes in Philadelphia and its suburbs in sports such as football, soccer, field hockey and cross-country was made by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which oversees most of the schools that are members of the Philadelphia Catholic League.

“After much careful thought, consultation and prayer a decision has been reached that all of our high schools will opt out of interscholastic competition for the fall 2020 season,” the Archdiocese of Philadelphia said in a statement. “We recognize that this news is disappointing to many of our students, families and coaches, particularly our seniors.

“It saddens us greatly as well.”

The news is perhaps the biggest domino to fall in the movement to postpone youth sports until the new year to help mitigate the spread of the virus. The Philadelphia Public League and Del Val League as well as individual school districts such as Cheltenham, Norristown, Pottstown and Phoenixville also have postponed fall sports.

The PCL is one of the strongest and most storied leagues in the state, known for powerhouse programs in every sport. The league currently is home to the defending PIAA football state champions in the two largest enrollment groups as St. Joseph’s Prep won the 2019 Class 6A title and Archbishop Wood won the 2019 Class 5A state title.

“It’s a tough day,” said Neumann Goretti football coach Albie Crosby, whose team was projected as a strong contender for the Class 3A state title. “Selfishly, we all wanted to play. But I guess the risks outweigh the rewards in this case.”

St. Joseph’s Prep, La Salle and Devon Prep are members of the PCL but not under the auspices of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Those three schools can continue to pursue fall sports if their administrations make those decisions.

The St. Joseph’s Prep football program, which has won four state titles in the last six years, is one of the strongest in the country and features multiple players who have committed to play NCAA Division I college football.

St. Joseph’s Prep athletic director Dan DiBerardinis said the Hawks will investigate the possibility of playing fall sports as an independent, although scheduling games, especially in football, could prove to be a difficult challenge. La Salle is also looking at that option, according to athletic director Joe Parisi.

“At this point we are carefully considering all of our options,” Parisi said.

Like the Public League, the Catholic League will look to stage fall sports in the spring. The PIAA on Friday unanimously passed a motion to help schools that had shut down fall sports in arranging competition in the spring.

“We are confident that PIAA will seek to provide alternative solutions for those entities opting out of fall programs in the coming semester,” the Archdiocese statement said. “As we continue to live in a time of uncertainty, it would be imprudent to speculate regarding an exact time when the competitions will resume or regarding the status of spring semester athletics.”

The decision comes three days after the PIAA also announced that it intended to continue with plans to sponsor school sports while leaving the ultimate decision to play with each individual school district.

The PIAA’s plan to move forward was in defiance of a “strong recommendation” issued jointly by the Pennsylvania Departments of Health and Education that school-sponsored and recreational youth sports be postponed until Jan. 1 at the earliest.

Gov. Tom Wolf and Philadelphia Health Secretary Rachel Levine both have said that guidance was “not a mandate” and that the decision to play should be made at the local level. But the recommendation from the Wolf administration is believed to have raised additional concerns among school districts of increased liability exposure.

“Liability is the biggest thing,” a PCL insider said before the principals and presidents meeting.

In its statement, the archdiocese indicated that uncertainty over the spread of the virus led to the decision to postpone fall sports.

“Please know that we share your disappointment,” the archdiocese said in the statement, which was sent to families with children in archdiocese schools. “It is our hope that your disappointment will be tempered by an understanding that we have an obligation to protect all those entrusted to our care.

“Given the nature of athletic competition and the manner in which COVID-19 is transmitted, there is currently no way for us to reasonably provide for the health and safety of student-athletes as well as those with whom they come into contact.”