The Pennsylvania fall high school sports season received the green light Wednesday afternoon.
The Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association Board of Directors voted 30-2 to allow the season to begin on schedule, approving the recommendations of the Sports Medicine Advisory Committee.
The PIAA reviewed a 24-page return to competition document listing safety protocols for all sports. Specific protocols have not been released to the media.
The motto of the document reads: “Protect yourself. Protect others. Protect the season.”
“They seem to have everything covered,” said former Butler football coach Garry Cathell, executive director of the Pa. Football Coaches Association, who sat in on the football steering committee's portion of Wednesday's PIAA meeting. “I'm pretty comfortable with where the state's at on this.
“Ultimately, the decision to move forward was based on not being willing to take away the option of playing in the fall at this time. We can always move back. Right now, it's safe to start. Let's get it rolling.”
Heat acclimation for high school athletes is set to begin Aug. 10. First practice date is Aug. 17.
Golf and girls tennis may begin regular seasons Aug. 20 and 24, respectively. The first football Friday is Aug. 28 with all other fall sports slated to begin Sept. 4.
The PIAA is allowing flexibility for schools and/or athletic districts to move those start dates later.
“We may start on time, move back to Sept. 18 or even October,” Butler athletic director Bill Mylan said. “Obviously, we need to have uniformity on those start dates throughout the WPIAL (Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League). A lot of discussions will be taking place in the coming weeks.”
Mylan admitted he's still leery about the fall season getting underway.
“We're excited that our governing body is giving us the go-ahead,” he said. “But the governor could still choose to shut us down. He's been back and forth on things. Hopefully, he'll let us go.”
Fall sports teams have already been involved in voluntary summer workouts, with social distancing and cleansing of equipment taking place.
“We're doing everything we can do,” Karns City football coach Joe Sherwin said of health precautions. “We haven't discussed the possibility of the season not happening with our kids. I've chosen to be optimistic that way.
“Whether it's a full season or a reduced season remains to be seen.”
In terms of football, safety protocols being considered include (optional) face shields on helmets, the expansion of the sideline box areas for social distancing, and reduction of player huddles by coaches using more signs and signals.
“Rosters may be reduced for away games,” Butler football coach Eric Christy said. “We've even discussed how to handle water breaks. It's all being covered.”
Officials wearing masks and the sanitizing of locker rooms has also been discussed by the PIAA board.
“I know those shield helmets are being manufactured,” Knoch football coach Brandon Mowry said. “The place we get our equipment from has them in stock.
“I'm happy Pennsylvania is trying to play in the fall. Some of the states that have shifted fall sports to later, like California and Virginia, have 60-degree temperatures in January. We have 20-degree weather. We don't have that luxury.”
The National Federation of High Schools (NFHS) reported that California, New Mexico, Nevada, Washington and Virginia, along with the District of Columbia have moved football to the winter or spring. Another 18 states are delaying the start of the fall sports season.
Cathell said the PIAA has a contingency plan that could have winter sports played in January and February, fall sports in March and April, and spring sports in May and June of 2021.
“They are prepared to adjust to anything, including COVID-19 cases,” he said.
Any high school team in any sport opting not to play a game due to coronavirus concerns will result in a “no game” for both teams involved, not a forfeiture.
Mars athletic director and football coach Scott Heinauer said he's happy just to see high school teams convening again.
“When everything was shut down in the spring and sports came to a screeching halt ... we all knew this (virus) was serious. We're still treating it as serious,” Heinauer said. “Safety will always come first.
“But watching our volleyball, soccer and tennis teams work out, the smiles on their faces, how happy they are to be together ... it's just great for their mental health.
“These kids do all the Instagram, Facebook stuff, but interacting with each other, being on the field with their friends? That's irreplaceable,” he added.
The PIAA Board's next meeting is Aug. 26.