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Another Pennsylvania high school athletic conference shuts down fall sports

PHIL ANASTASIA
The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)
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The Inter-Academic League on Wednesday announced the suspension of interscholastic athletic competition through the end of the calendar year because of COVID-19 concerns.

The decision follows similar moves in recent days by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which postponed fall sports for its high schools, shutting down most of the Philadelphia Catholic League, as well as the Philadelphia Public League, Del Val League and Friends Schools League.

“This decision was made given the unprecedented health concerns we face and in consideration with Gov. Wolf’s strong recommendation as well as updated policy recommendations from CHOP Policy Lab,” the league announced in a statement.

The Inter-Ac League includes traditionally strong athletic programs in boys’ sports in schools such as Episcopal Academy, Malvern Prep, Germantown Academy, Penn Charter, Haverford School and Springside Chestnut Hill Academy.

In girls’ sports, the league also includes Academy of Notre Dame de Namur, Agnes Irwin and Baldwin School along with Episcopal Academy, Germantown Academy, Springside Chestnut Hill and Penn Charter.

The Inter-Ac stages sports such as football, soccer, field hockey, cross-country, golf, girls’ tennis, girls’ volleyball and water polo in the fall.

“I just feel terrible for the kids,” Malvern Prep football coach Dave Gueriera said. “It’s so tough to be 15, 16, 17 years old and keep being told you can’t do something that you love.”

The league tentatively plans to stage all sports in condensed, seven-week seasons after the new year, with traditional winter sports followed by fall and spring sports. Under that scenario, sports such as football and soccer would be played in late February and March.

Episcopal Academy athletic director and football coach Todd Fairlie said the competition likely would involve only league games, although there might be options for “some cross-overs” if other leagues and schools in the area also are pursuing similar plans.

The Philadelphia Public and Catholic Leagues are looking at the possibility of staging competition in the spring in football and other traditional fall sports.

“It’s disappointing on many levels,” Fairlie said. “But we do feel confident that we have a plan in place” for fall sports to be staged after the new year.

The league’s statement said that heads of school and athletic directors voted unanimously to “suspend any interscholastic competition through Dec. 31, 2020.”

Fairlie said the league officials made a strong effort to salvage the fall season but ultimately couldn’t justify moving forward over the “strong recommendations” from the Pennsylvania Departments of Health and Education, and with some of Inter-Ac schools planning to open the year with virtual learning.

“I can’t begin to tell you how much time and energy and meetings and scenarios went into trying to make this work,” Fairlie said. “It’s such a challenging time, but now that a final decision has been made, we think this gives some of these sports their best chance of operating this school year.”

Fairlie led the Episcopal Academy football team to a 9-1 overall record and the league title last season, with the lone loss in wild fashion by a 56-55 score in overtime against Germantown Academy.

“There’s just a lot of frustration,” Fairlie said of the reaction among the current players over the postponement of the fall season. “There’s anger, and there should be. It’s hard enough on us as adults trying to work our way through these challenging times.”

Gueriera’s team was projected as a strong contender in the league this fall, led by all-purpose standout Lonnie White Jr., a Penn State recruit.

“I’m telling the kids, ‘We’re not canceled; we’re postponed,‘ ” Gueriera said. “The kids are upset. We were maybe a couple weeks away from playing.

“But we have to find a way to stay positive, to stay productive. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. We have to use this time to train, to prepare, to be even better when we get a chance to play in the spring.”