The high school fall sports season is still on. For now.
The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association on Friday voted to push back the start of athletics until Aug. 24 so the board can have discussions with Gov. Tom Wolf and the Department of Health and Education — among others — about finding safe ways to begin the fall season.
At the tail end of a news conference Thursday, Gov. Wolf recommended that all high school and youth sports across the state be pushed back until at least Jan. 1, 2021, because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Friday, the PIAA board voted 30-2 to push everything to Aug. 24 and address concerns.
All Pennsylvania schools are currently operating under board-approved health and safety plans that enable athletes to return to campus for offseason workouts. The PIAA is hoping those plans will lead to Wolf green-lighting athletics this fall.
“We’re going to reach out to the governors office and see if we can have a discussion about what was stated (Thursday),” PIAA executive director Dr. Robert Lombardi said. “The statement came at the end of his meeting, and there was no follow up. So we need to have some dialogue about where that date came from, among other things.”
Lombardi said the PIAA was blindsided by the governor's comment, and that his office received more than 5,500 emails and dozens of phone calls over the next 24 hours. That led to the PIAA voting for a two-week pause to get some answers.
“Our intention,” Lombardi said, “is to give as many opportunities to our student-athletes as possible.”
Schools that were still targeted to start fall practice on time — and several leagues around the Commonwealth have voted to remain on the original schedule — can begin on Aug. 24.
Multiple schools around the state, including Reading in District Three, have already voted to cancel all fall sports for 2020.
The Lancaster-Lebanon League, which voted earlier this week to push back the start of football heat acclimatization practices to Aug. 31, and all other fall sports practices until Sept. 4, will stick with those dates.
“This is good news because I know there were a lot of concerned people,” L-L League executive director Ron Kennedy said. “Everybody is fighting for the kids. Executive directors, athletic directors the PIAA, we’re all in this to fight for the kids, and to try and give them something, knowing we’re in the middle of a pandemic.
“There are no easy answers here, and the answers we got today might be different than the answers we get tomorrow. But we’re fighting for the kids, and we’re doing our very best. And now there’s still some hope for the fall, so that’s good news.”
After a 15-minute executive session to open Friday's meeting, District Six chair Bill Marshall made a motion to defer the start of all fall sports for two weeks, until Aug. 24, so the PIAA can seek dialogue with the administration, the legislature, and all athletic stakeholders to obtain clarification on the possibility of safely conducting athletic activities in conjunction with the start of the school year.
Elco athletic director Doug Bohannon, the District Three chair, seconded the motion, and it passed by a 30-2 vote.
“There just wasn’t enough clarification, there wasn’t enough dialogue, and that’s why this two weeks is sitting there for us now,” Bohannon said. “The PIAA would like to get more information. What the governor said Thursday was not a mandate. It was not an order. It was a strong recommendation. Look, we love high school sports, and we’re passionate about our student-athletes, and we feel like we’re trying to give them an opportunity to play this fall.”
The PIAA board is set to meet again Aug. 21.