Fall sports could be back on at high schools across Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association and the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League announced Friday an end to their two-week delay in favor of starting the season Monday.
The PIAA Board of Directors voted 25 to 5 to start fall sports on Aug. 24. Schools that have opted out will also be allowed to make changes, providing them the possibility of starting up a fall season at a later time.
The decision ultimately falls to each school district. Some school boards have already voted to cancel fall sports. Uniontown Area School District opted out of proceeding with its football and boys and girls soccer seasons earlier this month.
The future of the season came into question as schools began announcing virtual returns to academic classes and the state issued a strong recommendation that all fall sports be postponed until at least January. That recommendation also noted that school boards would make the ultimate call on whether or not to start the season.
WPIAL said Friday its schools could proceed with their seasons as a result of the PIAA vote. Executive director Amy Scheuneman said the organization is excited about moving forward and would coordinate scheduling at its next board meeting scheduled for Monday.
The Allegheny County Health Department cosigned protocols developed by PIAA and WPIAL in a joint statement with WPIAL. The department said based on guidelines from the PIAA’s return to competition considerations, that the current 50-person limitation on outdoor gatherings could be met by grouping people at sporting events into three pods.
Coaches and players on the sidelines wearing face coverings and maintaining social distancing would comprise two of the pods, while a third would include those engaged in competition on the field.
No spectators will be permitted at games or practices.
In addition to the guidelines already developed by PIAA and WPIAL, the Allegheny County Health Department recommended further restrictions to limit groups in close contact for an extended period of time:
- Events must be hosted at a facility where regulation can occur.
- An administrator and/or designee must be present to monitor gatherings and ensure compliance.
- Teams and/or pods must not exceed the gathering size of 50 people in a close proximity to each other (such as an individual sideline, on the competition area during a contest, or in a section of the bleachers).
- While on the sidelines and not engaged in competition, coaches, athletes and staff should have a face covering and keep 6’ of distance between each other.
- Athletes and coaches should comply with their school’s Health and Safety Plans with regard to health screenings prior to practice and competition.
- Events should be limited to the time necessary for appropriate warm-up and competition. Schools should avoid arriving at a facility well in advance of the starting time and should leave as soon as possible after the completion of the competition. There shall be no congregating in groups after the event.
- The total facility capacity may not exceed the state mandate of 250 individuals.
Woodland Hills High School is starting classes virtually, but expects to follow guidance set by WPIAL officials regarding fall sports, according to Superintendent James Harris.
“We’ve shutdown our facilities twice so far and done deep cleanings,” he said when students tested positive for COVID-19 after competing in tournaments outside of the area. Harris said Woodland Hills plans to consider what other county schools are doing before considering shutting down any programs.
“We don’t just want to shut down the program and find that we have to start it up again or forfeit something,” he said. According to Harris, Woodland Hills will closely review guidance set forth by WPIAL officials before making their decision.
Northgate Area School District will carry out its fall sports seasons, according to Superintendent Caroline Johns. No athletes have tested positive for COVID-19 in the Northgate Area district so far.
“We are a significantly smaller district and our student athletes have not been traveling out of the area,” she said.
Administrators at Pittsburgh Public Schools recommended to the school board earlier this month that fall sports be postponed. The district, which plays in the Pittsburgh City League, is starting its school year online. The board is expected to vote on the matter at its Aug. 26 meeting.
“If we’ve gone online because of the safety issues, we’re worried about when it comes to kids and teachers being in close proximity, how can we actually bring kids back for contact sports?” PPS Superintendent Anthony Hamlet said.
Earlier this month, Pittsburgh Public Schools canceled conditioning for Allderdice girls soccer after a player tested positive for COVID-19.
PIAA and WPIAL competition schedules are forthcoming.