Gov. Wolf pauses high school sports until Jan. 4 as part of COVID-19 mitigation efforts

Central York boys' basketball head coach Kevin Schieler watches Taylor Wright Rawls dribble down the court in a file photo. Dawn J. Sagert photo

One day before the high school winter sports competitions were set to start in some parts of Pennsylvania, athletes and coaches have found out that their seasons now won't begin until after the new year.

Thursday, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf released his temporary updated COVID-19 mitigation efforts. Under his new plan, no scholastic in-person extracurricular activities will be permitted, including sports. That includes practices, games and tournaments. The new restrictions will be in effect starting at 12:01 a.m. Saturday and will run until 8 a.m. Monday, Jan. 4.

In addition to not being able to practice or play games, student-athletes will be without access to gyms and fitness centers for three weeks, which are forced to close for the same period.

The decision from Wolf comes just one day after the PIAA met and decided to continue with the winter sports season as scheduled, despite a request from the Pennsylvania Principals Association, which sent a letter to the PIAA asking for a delay, but did not specify a date.

During Wednesday's PIAA meeting, a motion was approved to require a certain number of practices for teams that are unable to compete because of COVID-19 issues. Any teams out for 14 days or more are required to practice four times before they can play. That is assuming they had already met the preseason requirement of 15 practices. Preseason practices in Pennsylvania could start on Nov. 20.

So, although sports acitivities can resume on Jan. 4, under that guideline, games would not be possible until Jan. 8, once schools can meet the four-practice requirement.

The York-Adams League had already decided to postpone its winter competitions one week, until Dec. 18. The league had also decided to limit teams to 18 games, canceled league tournaments and required athletes and coaches to wear masks at all times, except for swimmers in actual competition in the pool.

It is uncertain if Wolf's new order will cause the league to rethink that plan and further reduce the high school winter sports schedules. In the fall, the Y-A League only permitted league games vs. divisional foes to be played, which left most teams with a regular-season schedule of 12-14 games.

The PIAA has already announced that only district team champions will advance to the state playoffs in the winter. Also, the PIAA qualifiers in the individual state wrestling and swimming events have been greatly reduced.

Wolf's new restrictions don't apply to college or professional sports, meaning that the Penn State Nittany Lions and the Philadelphia Eagles can hold their home football games set for this weekend as scheduled, but without fans.

Penn State is scheduled to play Michigan State at noon Saturday and the Philadelphia Eagles are scheduled to play at 4:25 p.m. Sunday vs. the New Orleans Saints.

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