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PIAA votes to allow fall sports

A vote by the PIAA on Friday to proceed with fall sports cleared the way for athletes across Pennsylvania to prepare for a return to competition.

The board voted 25-5 to begin the season on Monday, Aug. 24, based on local school decisions.

The news came after the PIAA announced earlier this month that it was delaying the start of the season for two weeks. That announcement came after the suggestion of Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf, who recommended that no youth sports be played until January of 2021, a decision that also included all PIAA sponsored high school sports this fall.

“The Board agrees the decision to compete in athletics should be made locally, allowing for each school entity to decide whether to proceed and which sports to sponsor,” the statement read. “As the health and safety of students is paramount in moving forward with athletics, the Board believes that through each member school’s adherence to their developed school health and safety plans the PIAA Return to Competition guidelines sports can continue.”

The PIAA released a statement that it was disappointed with the decision by Wolf, and it wanted to work collaboratively with the governor, along with the Departments of Health and Education, to further discuss fall sports.

“It gives us direction,” said Northern Lehigh Athletic Director and Colonial League President Bryan Geist. “Ultimately, now we’re going to meet on Monday as ADs just to kind of figure out schedules. I don’t have anything definitive yet, but we’re going to discuss that Monday and move forward.

“Each school still has the opportunity to do what they need to do. We’re going to provide an avenue for the schools that want to start early, to start early, and then we’re going to provide an avenue for schools that want to go later, to go later.”

The first scrimmage and contest date for golf is Aug. 27, while girls tennis, cross country, volleyball, field hockey, soccer and water polo can scrimmage Aug. 29. The first scrimmage date for football is Sept. 5.

The first contest date for girls tennis is Aug. 31. The first contest date for cross country, volleyball, field hockey, soccer, football and water polo is Sept. 11.

“I think ultimately what we’re going to do is we’re just going to look at, here’s the dates, and then as schools, they need to determine what they want to do as a school moving forward,” said Geist. “We’re going to provide the avenue for dates and schedules. Again, we’re not mandating anything. We’re not saying you have to play; we’re just providing an opportunity and that’s just so teams can figure out a schedule.

“And then from that point, if schools are saying they want to change dates ... just like if we had a weather issue, we’d change dates and move things around and continue to play in that way. We’ll just play it out, and see what happens.”

Before Wolf recommended the two-week hold, the Colonial League had announced it planned to start seasons as scheduled, but individual schools could opt out. The East Penn Conference at that same time planned to start golf, tennis and cross country seasons as scheduled, but contact sports soccer, field hockey, football and volleyball would begin 4-5 weeks later than normal. The EPC also planned to reduce its football schedule to just five games played within division that were realigned by county.

Since then, mostly due to the two-week hold imposed by Wolf, things changed.

The Northern Lehigh School District had already agreed to delay the start of its formal mandatory sports season.

The school board unanimously agreed to the measure until no sooner than the end of the first week of school. Superintendent Matthew J. Link said that would be Sept. 3, but because it’s a short week due to the Labor Day holiday, there’s no school Sept. 4 or Sept. 7, which would take the district to Sept. 8.

Schools must have 15 days of practice before their first contest, which means NL would begin competition on Sept. 25.

“For me, I just kind of have the athletics perspective where our school district gets to see the overall aspect of what’s going on,” said Geist. “So for me, it’s more or less just we feel our school district makes some decisions, and we would like you to start on this date. So then I’ll just make decisions based on that.”

Football must hold heat acclimatization for five consecutive days if starting before Friday, Sept. 4. Following heat acclimatization, five days of practice must be completed before a scrimmage.

Based on the practice schedule in completed five practices, a scrimmage could occur as early as Sept. 3. Five additional days of practice must occur before the first contest.

A contest cannot take place prior to Sept. 11. If starting on or after Sept. 4, holding heat acclimatization is a local school decision to be dictated be weather conditions.

For athletes, parents, coaches, administrators and everyone who has been waiting for what’s next, there is now some direction to move forward.

PRESS FILE PHOTO Fall sports athletes can celebrate the recent decision by the PIAA to allow fall sports season in 2020.