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Colonial season delayed, then shutdown in busy week

Colonial League athletic directors and principals met virtually last week to discuss plans for the upcoming winter sports season.

The primary issues were to decide whether to delay the start of the league schedule, how many league games to play and whether spectators would be allowed to watch games in person. The discussions were prompted by the recent spike in coronavirus cases throughout the Lehigh Valley area.

Unfortunately for area sports, just days after the Colonial League meeting, Gov. Tom Wolf announced that he was shutting down many venues and businesses, including all school sports in the commonwealth until at least January 4.

After some debate on the schedule, the league decided by a 7-6 vote to delay the start of the league schedule until January 11. Northwestern Lehigh, Notre Dame, Palisades, Palmerton, Pen Argyl and Salisbury all voted to begin the schedule on time, which would have been as early as last Friday in some cases. Previously, the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference voted to move the start of league games back to January 15.

Northwestern Lehigh athletic director Jason Zimmerman made a motion to allow teams who were comfortable playing league games before the January 11 date to play their league games in December, as scheduled. Zimmerman’s concern was that with the possible addition of games needing to be postponed because of bad weather, the schedule late in the season could become too packed with games. He also argued that it’s impossible to predict where coronavirus cases will be later in the winter and that now may be the best time to play league games, at least between consenting schools.

“We do have an open week between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs,” said Catasauqua athletic director Tom Moll. “We could use that to fit some games in if we needed to find more room to fit in some extra games if we have to.”

The plan drew interest from some of the principals in the meeting who were concerned with the possibility of having student-athletes play as many as four games in a week amid normal schoolwork and final exams. After the debate, the league voted 8-5 against allowing consenting schools to play league games before January 11, with Notre Dame, Palisades, Palmerton and Pen Argyl joining Northwestern Lehigh in voting for the agreement.

To help avoid some congestion of games, the league also voted 11-2 to reduce the basketball schedule from 12 league games to 10 and the wrestling schedule from 11 matches down to eight. Only Northwestern and Pen Argyl objected. Because of the uneven number of schools in the league, some schools may finish with 11 league games. The league also voted unanimously to include the top eight teams in the playoffs rather than the normal six in basketball.

As for spectators, both the Lehigh Valley Health Network and St. Luke’s Health Network, who advise schools on medical issues advised the league against having spectators at games this season. With that advice, the league voted 8-5 to not allow fans at games this season with two exceptions; first, parents of senior players are may be in attendance for Senior Night festivities and parents of players close to reaching a milestone such as 1,000-points in basketball or 100-wins in wrestling, will be allowed to attend the event where that milestone is likely to be reached.

While Gov. Wolf’s shutdown is in effect until 8 a.m. January 4, teams won’t be able to play games until January 8 because the PIAA requires a minimum of four practice days before resuming the season schedule if a team has been unable to practice for 14 or more days. It’s also possible that the shutdown could be extended, depending on the number of coronavirus cases throughout the state at that point.

Brownwyn Pacchioli is a key returning player for the girls this year but their season will be on hold for a few weeks.