WYNCOTE, Pa. (CBS/AP) — The governing body for Pennsylvania interscholastic sports decided Friday to move forward with the fall season, rejecting the governor’s recommendation that all youth sports be postponed until 2021 to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. The board of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association had delayed the start of fall sports by two weeks after Gov. Tom Wolf on Aug. 6 urged that scholastic and recreational youth sports be put off until January, citing the pandemic.
— Matt Petrillo (@MattPetrillo) August 21, 2020
The PIAA had said it was blindsided and “tremendously disappointed” by Wolf’s recommendation — which was not binding — and insisted that fall sports could be held safely. For his part, Wolf has pointed out that major collegiate leagues have independently canceled fall sports.
The board voted 25-5 on Friday to allow high school football, soccer, tennis, field hockey and other fall sports to go on as planned. There was no discussion.
Some school districts and leagues have already thrown in the towel on a fall season, including those in Philadelphia, Reading and Harrisburg, saying the risk of spreading the virus is too great. Other districts plan to play now that the PIAA has signed off.
Several Pennsylvania high schools have already reported virus cases among athletes, prompting temporary shutdowns of sports programs.
The Cheltenham School District already announced it will not have fall sports.
“I am suspending fall athletic activities and practices,” Superintendent Dr. Wagner Marseille said.
Marseille sent a letter to parents on Thursday that reads, in part, “allowing fall sports to move forward would be contradictory to our current stance of opening school in a virtual environment. I am not confident in our ability to mitigate the exposure and transmission of COVID-19 during interscholastic competition.”
“I’ve listened and I’ve heard and I’ve read from multiple stakeholders trying to figure out what is the best move,” Marseille said. “And every decision is, ‘how do I make sure I don’t hurt individuals in this process,’ knowing that is inevitable with regards in the decisions I make.”
The decision came ahead of the PIAA’s vote on Friday.
The PIAA essentially punted the decision to school districts and OKing high school sports to run in contrast to Wolf’s recommendation no youth sports be played until 2021, but not everyone is on the governor’s team.
— Matt Petrillo (@MattPetrillo) August 21, 2020
A survey released Thursday from the Pennsylvania Principals Association found that about 44% of responders agreed with Wolf’s recommendation. The survey also found about 44% supported allowing non-contact sports only this fall, like cross country and tennis.
Some parents Eyewitness News spoke with want to see their kids play.
“Everyone in my family plays sports. Sports are an important part of everything,” Kalena Vaden, of West Oak Lane, said.
“There’s nothing else to do. It would give them some type of interaction with some kids,” Brittany Roundtree, of Cheltenham, said.
But others argue sports should hold off for at least a little while longer.
“It makes sense because right now the numbers are high and it makes sense for the safety of the children,” Terrie Black, of Mt. Airy, said.
Members of the Frankford High School football team spent their Friday afternoon putting in work.
“We were cleaning around the community, from the terminal to these buildings up here,” player Yaseem Cruz-Davis said.
“With any team, you gotta build trust, accountability and build the bond,” head coach Bill Sytsma said.
Outings like this are how Sytsma is keeping his guys feeling productive.
“We can’t do that in traditional ways of being on the football field with practice and games,” he said.
The decision to resume fall sports still rests with the local school district and in Philly, it will be a no-go.
“The school district already made their decision that they are going to follow the governor’s recommendations. I mean, I understand it, we are dealing with something there is really no playbook for,” Sytsma said.
“The PIAA also did say that districts that don’t play in the fall could possibly have the option of playing in the spring hopefully we will be playing in the spring,” Sytsma said.
On this summer evening, the team returned to Frankford’s field. There will be no Friday night lights for now, just pizza and some hope.
Earlier in the summer, gun violence claimed the life of a Frankford High football player. That’s why it’s all the more important, according to Sytsma, to keep his players occupied and full of purpose during the pandemic.
One league, the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League, which has over 200 member schools in 10 counties, struck a separate agreement with the Allegheny County Health Department that will allow fall sports in the Pittsburgh area to go on — despite the county’s 50-person limit on outdoor gatherings.
The agreement, announced Friday, will allow the WPIAL to get around the limit by counting each sideline as its own, separate gathering, called a “pod,” with the players on the field constituting a third pod. Each pod, the agreement says, will be limited to 50 people or less. Football teams, in particular, would’ve had trouble playing in Allegheny County if the 50-person gathering limit had been strictly imposed.
The PIAA, citing a statewide outdoor gathering limit of 250, has prohibited spectators at fall sporting events.
Most of the seats on the 32-member PIAA board are filled with representatives from member schools, with school boards, school administrators, athletic directors and coaches, among others, also represented. The state Department of Education also has a seat.
CBS3’s Matt Petrillo and Alexandria Hoff contributed to this report.
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)