The Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League, or WPIAL, said Monday that fall sports can be played safely and criticized what it called "inconsistent messaging” from state officials.
In a press conference, WPIAL Executive Director Amy Scheuneman said the league agrees with the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association’s move last week to postpone mandatory sports events for two weeks rather than cancel play through the fall. As of now, WPIAL plans to start its football season Sept. 10th.
Scheuneman, who took over as WPIAL’s executive director last month, rebuked a joint recommendation released last week from the Pennsylvania Health and Education Departments calling for all fall sports to be postponed until January 2021. The Wolf administration said it has consistently either prohibited or discouraged large gatherings – such as sporting events – since it began issuing guidance in March.
“The WPIAL’s response to the government’s comments … is one of frustration, due to an uncalculated, inconsistent and unfair approach to this guidance,” Scheuneman said. She noted that the WPIAL had been developing new safety guidelines for their teams based on information from the Centers for Disease Control, as recommended by earlier guidance from the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
Echoing a statement made the PIAA Friday, Scheuneman cited concerns about adverse mental health effects that WPIAL feels could result for athletes as a result of not playing. She also agreed with efforts by the PIAA to begin a dialogue between leagues and state officials about how to proceed with the season.
Scheuneman said the WPIAL and PIAA are seeking more clarity about the ramifications for schools that proceed with their seasons against the recommendation of the government. She noted some recreational, amateur and club leagues have stated their intent to continue with their seasons despite the recommendation to postpone.
“The delay is not because we feel there needs to be a delay. It’s for allowance of time to hopefully get clarity to these schools who might be concerned about the legal ramifications of not following a strong recommendation,” she said.
When asked about how WPIAL could justify hosting sporting events when kids aren’t able to attend in-person classes, Scheuneman cited crowd size as a main factor. “Seven athletes are needed for a tennis match. It’s certainly manageable as opposed to a class of 2,000 students trying to get in and out of small hallways,” she said.
“The ability to socially distance in sports is far easier than it is at a school level, in which strong recommendations have not been made against [having in-person classes].”
WPIAL may be willing to compromise on proceeding with only sports where social distancing can be practiced for now, according to Scheuneman. “We would welcome whatever sports are able to happen.”
She noted that moving forward with sports like golf and tennis this fall would make it easier to organize competitions and practices for the remainder of sports in the spring.
For now, WPIAL is encouraging its member schools to continue with voluntary practices and conditioning until further talks can take place between leagues and government officials.