PIAA

HARRISBURG >> The PIAA is "moving forward" with the fall sports season.

The Commonwealth's governing body for high school sports issued a statement declaring its intention to resume athletic competition, beginning Aug. 10 with a week of heat acclimatization for football. All other fall sports — cross country, field hockey, golf, soccer, tennis (girls), volleyball (girls) and water polo — will begin Aug. 17.

In its statement, the PIAA made clear that it will continue with fall sports unless instructed otherwise by the state. In other words, fall sports will not be played in the event Gov. Tom Wolf calls for all schools to close in the weeks before, or at any point during, the 2020-21 school year.

The announcement came during the PIAA’s Board of Directors meeting on Zoom on Wednesday afternoon

"Our focus is on the health and safety of student athletes, which is paramount in moving forward with athletics," the PIAA said in its statement. "Each member school has developed health and safety guidelines to allow athletics to continue as an important part of the school day. Participation in athletics has known health benefits, including promoting physical fitness and mental wellness which is necessary in a time of uncertainty for our student athletes.

"PIAA is committed to providing a season for all sports in the upcoming school year and will be flexible if conditions would change."

Opening weekend of the football regular season remains Aug. 28-29. All fall sports will keep to their regular season start dates.

They said they want to make sure we are doing everything that is in the best interest and safety of the coaches, players and everybody involved," said Garnet Valley football coach Mike Ricci. "I've been very encouraged during these couple of weeks that we've been working out as a team. We've been able to maintain social distancing, we've been able to ... protect players and coaches involved. To me, we'll take it one day at a time. We're preparing as if we are going to play this year and if we have to make adjustments, we will."

Wins and losses will take a backseat to the health, safety and overall well-being of the students and coaching staff. Schools must continue to follow school-board-approved health and safety plans, as instructed by the Department of Health and Department of Education.

"They said they want to make sure we are doing everything that is in the best interest and safety of the coaches, players and everybody involved," said Garnet Valley football coach Mike Ricci. "I've been very encouraged during these couple of weeks that we've been working out as a team. We've been able to maintain social distancing, we've been able to ... protect players and coaches involved. To me, we'll take it one day at a time. We're preparing as if we are going to play this year and if we have to make adjustments, we will."

Wins and losses will take a backseat to the health, safety and overall well-being of the students and coaching staff. Schools must continue to follow school-board-approved health and safety plans, as instructed by the Department of Health and Department of Education.

"We haven't done any football related things yet, just a lot of conditioning. We moved a lot of our weight training to outside on the field, so we have some space," Ricci said. "We're taking advantage of being outside. Next week we're going to get down and do some football stuff, and that's going to be the first time we do that. We're not going to put helmets on, we're just going to wear our masks and use it as a teaching tool."

During a question-and-answer session with reporters, PIAA executive director Dr. Robert Lombardi said it's ultimately up to school districts to allow organized athletics, if schools are open in the fall.

"It's school by school and you get as much in as you can," Lombardi said. "If you're allowed to play, play. ... Right now, it's status quo. We'd like to hold serve for the start of fall sports."

The possibility remains that seasons will be shortened, but district and state playoffs are "on the books" this fall, Lombardi said.

Lombardi said there are no plans "at this time" to move fall sports to the spring season.

In other news from the meeting, the Board of Directors voted to eliminate one weight class in wrestling, from 14 to 13. In addition, the PIAA has renewed its relationship with Hershey GIANT Center to host basketball, spirit and wrestling championships for the next four years. Swimming and diving will remain at Bucknell University.

The PIAA will experiment with a one-year trial program for football at the junior varsity and junior high/middle school levels. Rather than playing timed quarters, teams will play controlled scrimmages, which would allow coaches to alter the rules in the interest of fairness and safety to players.

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