The games will soon begin in the Seneca Valley School District. But, as with everything else during the pandemic, there are some changes.
At a virtual meeting Monday, school directors approved revisions to the district's health and safety plan for its sports and athletic programs, which include changes to how schools will handle the “competition phase” of sports.
Heather Lewis, the district's director of athletics, said the addendum addressed directives handed down by the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association and the state Department of Health.
Protocols added include how the district will handle home events and manage teams as they travel to other schools, both in and out of the county.
Part of that includes how the district will bus student-athletes to other districts, as well as protocols on how locker rooms will be managed at opponents' facilities.
“It's important to note that how contests are managed vary from county to county,” she said. “There are different parameters in Butler County as compared to, say, Allegheny County.”
Not only that, Lewis said, the way individual school districts manage their home games will also differ from area to area. As one example, she said the band and cheerleaders will be allowed at some schools, but not at others.
One item that will not change between schools is the lack of fans. The PIAA directed all districts in the commonwealth to forbid attendance by anyone outside of the competing teams and, potentially, bands and cheer squads.
“The PIAA has put a mandate down to all school districts that we are not permitted to have fans,” she said. “We continue to advocate for some degree of fans in the stands, but as for now … there are no fans currently permitted.”
Eric DiTullio, the board's vice president, emphasized that the empty-stands rule comes from the state, rather than from the district.
“If we could, we would find a way to allow ... parents to see their kids play,” he said.
Lewis said the district will find alternative ways to have parents watch their students engage in sports, such as by streaming the games online.
One other challenge the no-fans policy presents to student-athletes is by forbidding college coaches from watching, too, potentially impacting whether students are selected for scholarships.
Lewis said the students will, as they have been in the past, be provided with game film, giving somewhat of a replacement for colleges viewing the games live.
As with virtually every other activity, high school sports have been impacted by the pandemic. Dealing with that requires patience, perseverance and strength, Lewis said — but, she added, that's nothing new for the student-athletes.
“Certainly we're faced with some challenges, but as athletes we're built for this,” she said.