I was in DuBois covering the District 9 North/South Softball Challenge last Wednesday when an unexpected, but welcome, press release from the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association hit my social media.
The first sentence read, “PIAA is moving forward with the normal start of the fall sports season unless otherwise directed by the Commonwealth.”
With heat acclimatization for football beginning Aug. 10, that means we’re within three weeks from what’s supposed to be the scheduled start to fall sports here in the Keystone State. The other fall sports get rolling a week later, Aug. 17.
Once I read through the release (and fired off a quick story for the next day’s paper, of course), I got back to the softball game taking place. But on the way home from Heindl Field, I got thinking about the whole deal.
At first, I was a bit surprised. The announcement was made even as neighboring states like West Virginia and New Jersey opted to delay the starts to their respective fall seasons, while New York, among other contingencies, delayed the start to its fall campaign and canceled its fall state championships while encouraging schools to play a regionally-focused schedule.
The Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) announced last week that it’s not going to play its fall sports as scheduled. In addition, Pitt-Bradford opted Monday to postpone all fall sports, too.
THE PIAA, though, — at least for now — is choosing to follow in the footsteps of Ohio, which also hasn’t budged from its official fall start date.
And if comments from executive director Dr. Bob Lombardi are any indication, the PIAA means it, too.
Lombardi told the Greensburg-based Tribune-Review last week, “We’re not following Maryland. We certainly are not following New Jersey. Those state associations are doing what their membership schools want. That’s what they want. Our folks don’t want that.
“Our folks have told our board members … we want as much as you possibly can now. We don’t want to be the PSAC. We don’t want to be the ACC or the NAIA or the jucos or Maryland or Virginia or New Mexico. All of those states have other (needs). We want to do what’s best for our kids in Pennsylvania with the best and current information that we have, at the latest possible date, to save as much activity as we possibly can.”
Despite the choice to push forward, though, Pennsylvania’s high school sports governing body has some tough sledding ahead.
THE PIAA itself even acknowledged that fact, as the final sentence of its release stated, “PIAA is committed to providing a season for all sports in the upcoming school year and will be flexible if conditions would change.”
That flexibility will be key, because there are several scenarios the state and its schools and teams will need to be ready for.
For example, what happens if an athlete or coach tests positive in the days following a contest? Not only would that athlete need to quarantine, but his or her teammates and anybody he or she faced in a game would likely have to quarantine, as well. How will the PIAA plan around that scheduling nightmare?
Further, how will the PIAA ensure athletes are tested or screened on a regular-enough basis to ensure the safety of its athletes if and when they take the field this fall? Right now, athletes participating in their school’s offseason workouts are screened for symptoms and such, but what of those athletes that are asymptomatic?
And, of course, things could — and do — change daily. What’s happening now and what happens in three weeks could be two entirely different scenarios.
Suffice it to say the PIAA has its work cut out for it as fall rapidly approaches.
(Joel Whetzel, a Bradford Era sportswriter, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)