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State Calls Time Out On High School Winter Sports Just Before The First Tip Off

Ralph Wilson
Neumann-Goretti players reach for the championship trophy at the end of a PIAA high school Class AAA Boys championship basketball game against Archbishop Carroll in Hershey, Pa. on Friday, March 20, 2015.

A day before many high school winter sports competitions were set to begin in Pennsylvania, the state called time out. All high school sports activities have been prohibited as part of a three-week order also restricting indoor dining and most gatherings.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s order Thursday came after a surge in COVID-19 cases that has exhausted health care workers and stretched hospital resources thin.

The order also cancels other in-person school extracurricular activities from Dec. 12 until Jan 4. Collegiate and professional sports can continue, but no spectators are permitted.

Some varsity Boys basketball and swimming competitions will go on Friday evening, according to Bob Bozzuto, North Allegheny School District Athletic Director and president of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Directors Association.

The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association released a statement Friday acknowledging the pause.

“Hopefully, this temporary suspension will assist in flattening the curve and reducing the numbers of cases statewide. We all collectively must be diligent in following mitigation efforts in order for a successful return to the season,” part of the statement reads.

Amy Scheuneman, executive director of the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League, said the organization is "sincerely hopeful that the combined mitigation efforts over the next 3 weeks are successful enough to allow all Pennsylvanians, and the student-athletes in particular, to safely return to normal activity for the start of 2021.”

Other school districts, including Pittsburgh Public Schools, had already postponed the start of their winter sports programs. According to Penn Live, the Pennsylvania Principals Association lobbied the PIAA to put the season on hold earlier this week. The PIAA instead announced it would extend the winter sports season to allow teams more time to compete if games are paused due to a COVID-19 case, according to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Mt. Lebanon School District paused its season on Nov. 30 after the school board decided to move academics fully online. John Grogan, Mt. Lebanon’s athletic director, said he anticipated a state order requiring postponement of winter athletics.

Grogan said the news from the state still hit his more than 370 athletes hard. “Certainly they are disappointed. As any student athlete would be,” he said.

Scheuneman said the WPIAL is in the process of rescheduling games and determining how late seasons can be stretched to provide athletes more opportunities to compete.

“My two favorite words this year have been ‘fluid’ and ‘flexible,’” Mt. Lebanon’s Grogan said. “At the end of the day it’s really about providing our kids opportunities to compete.”

Bozzuto said some North Allegheny coaches will keep their athletes in shape by advising personal workouts to complete at home during the three-week pause. He said coaches will also hold meetings over video chat.

“We in athletics talk about the word ‘team,’ and those meetings by remote give the opportunity to have kids engaged together and continue to work toward their common goal,” he said.

Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.