Manheim Twp. vs Hempfield-LL Boys Soccer

Manheim Twp.'s Colton Pierson (4) takes off after the ball against Hempfield during first half action of an L-L section 1 boys soccer game at Hempfield High School Thursday September 12, 2019.

The writing has been on the wall for quite some time, and the Lancaster-Lebanon League on Wednesday made it official.

The league’s secondary association voted 19-6 in favor of pushing back the start of all fall sports practices to Sept. 4 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to snarl schedules and wreak havoc across the state.

It was not a unanimous vote; Hempfield, Ephrata, Elco, Northern Lebanon, Lancaster Catholic and Cedar Crest voted to remain on schedule, with practices beginning later this month.

Instead, the L-L League golf season starts Aug. 17, football heat acclimatization practices begin Aug. 31, and the first official practice day for all the other fall sports is Sept. 4, pushed back from Aug. 17.

The league will finalize its new-look schedules on Thursday.

“We’re in unprecedented times here, and we’re all working together — athletic directors, principals and superintendents — to come up with a decision that was best for their school,” said Lebanon principal Bill Giovino, president of the league’s board of directors. “I think you heard it loud and clear when 76 percent said we need a delay. That kind of mimics what’s going on in the world right now; a lot of people are concerned about what’s going on, and we needed to bring everyone together.”

“The bottom line,” Giovino added, “is that we had to make a decision. We couldn’t wait around for other people to make decisions for us. We had to do what’s best for our league and for our kids right now.”

The overriding feeling among administrators is that schools want to get kids back in the classroom — in the building or virtually — before trying to figure out athletic protocols.

“Right now, we’re trying to cross all the T’s and dot all the I’s in terms of returning to school, and seeing what that’s all going to look like,” Warwick AD Ryan Landis said. “Delaying things, with everything we have to decide right now, we thought this was the best chance to play down the road. There’s just too much uncertainty. So maybe in two weeks or so things will look differently. Nobody knows, but everything seems to look different every day.”

Hempfield was hopeful that it could begin practices on time.

“We’re fully confident that we can get our season started next week with football and heat acc,” Hempfield AD Steve Polonus said. “Everything is in place and we’re ready to go. Our board voiced full support to get things going on the original PIAA dates. We don’t want to see our student-athletes lose opportunities, and that’s why we had a no vote. We feel like everyone here at Hempfield is ready to go.”

Alas, the motion passed by a 19-6 vote.

For now, student-athletes can continue on-campus workouts, following their school’s health and safety protocols. But nobody can hold an official practice until Sept. 4, and football players can’t put on pads until Sept. 5, at the end of heat acclimatization week.

Golf, because it’s contested off-campus and players can socially distance, will have a full season.

“I’m thankful that we still have an opportunity, at this time, to play,” Conestoga Valley AD Dina Henry said. “Look at all of the college conferences across the country that are cancelling fall sports. I’m sure this delay is disappointing for students and coaches and parents, but we have to continue to be positive about the situation, and lead in positive ways for students and our families.”

“We have to make the most of the opportunities we have,” she said, “and we’re doing everything we can for the health and safety of our students and our communities. If this delay can help mitigate any situations that can arise, then we have to do it.”

Even if that means a truncated schedule and potentially a tougher time qualifying for the league or District Three playoffs.

“This means that we can get schools open safely, and there will still be opportunities for the kids,” Garden Spot AD Marc Schaffer said. “We want to give them some sort of a season. But if we come back too early, before schools even open, and something happens, then they might not get any season at all.”

And nobody wants that.

“It’s important that we’re all together with this, and I know there were six schools that voted against it,” L-L League executive director Ron Kennedy said. “But look, we’d all love to start on time. But there are just too many questions out there right now.”

So the L-L League will hit the pause button.

“As a society we haven’t done what we’ve needed to do to get this under control,” Lancaster Country Day AD Zac Kraft said. “We’re all longing for a sense of normalcy at multiple levels. And sports for a lot of us represent normalcy. Sports is so embedded into the fabric and the DNA of our country and in our state and in our region.

“We’re trying to do all we can, but we can’t lose sight of the fact that we’re still dealing with a pandemic here. People are dying. It’s not a fun situation to be in the middle of, and to be making decisions. This is a very stressful time, so I absolutely think this is the right decision, given the current climate.”

“This gives us a little extra time to troubleshoot and evaluate and reevaluate and see where changes need to be made, because we’re all going to be making changes very quickly as things come up,” Henry noted. “So to have a little extra time to do that, there’s nothing wrong with that. Would we all like to be playing on time? Sure. But there’s nothing wrong with giving us a little extra time to make sure we can run our schools safely and as smoothly as possible.”

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