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Fall sports a go

Student-athletes in the Saucon Valley School District got good news at the Sept. 8 school board meeting, as the start of competitions were approved to begin later this month. The volleyball, soccer and field hockey teams will see their first sanctioned games Sept. 18, while football and cheerleading will have to wait one more week until the month’s final Friday.

Several senior representatives from the high school’s athletic program joined the virtual meeting over Zoom to lobby for the opportunity to return to competitive meet with other schools. Most of the athletes said they have been practicing since July and August, and have been working hard to comply with COVID-19 mitigation policies implemented by the district since the initial Athletic Resocialization Plan was passed by the board in late June.

There was some discussion over student-athletes’ transportation to and from games. District solicitor Mark Fitzgerald reminded the board that students are explicitly not allowed to transport themselves due to liability concerns. Thus, the two options for participants are the traditional method in which teams travel together via district buses or, if uncomfortable with that arrangement due to COVID concerns, ride with a parent or guardian.

On buses, teams will be instructed to sit one to a seat, the same as they are to and from school itself this year. This will likely necessitate the availability of more buses than in prior years, Athletic Director Robert Frey said, especially for teams with larger rosters like football.

Some board members shared their ongoing concerns about giving sports the green light, with Cedric Dettmar saying that even though the participation in sports is optional and there is an inherent implied acceptance of risk for students who choose to participate, “if someone gets sick they’re likely to spread it, or at the very least cause other people to go into quarantine in their classes and potentially even cause the whole school to shut down… those risks are risks that we all share.”

Board member Bryan Eichfeld, who has expressed reservations in prior meetings about the return of sports, said, “this is not an independent decision for the parents and the students because they can be bringing (COVID-19) back into the school.” He continued to elaborate, saying, “I am very torn on this issue. I really want fall sports to go through” and proposed an idea which he said he had heard taking place in other districts, though he did not specify. The plan would allow athletics, however the athletes themselves would not be allowed in classrooms and must attend classes virtually for the duration of the season, as well as 14 days after its conclusion.

Board member Sandra Miller pushed back on Eichfeld’s idea, noting how many students have already been playing team sports throughout the summer with club and recreational teams, as well as on their own. She also said, in the interest of fairness, students who engage in all kinds of other extracurricular activities, whether school-sanctioned or not, would have to be subject to the same rules. Ultimately, the board voted unanimously to approve the competitions.

Press photo by Chris Haring Girls' soccer team senior Maria Donahue joins the meeting in support of approving the fall sports schedule.