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PIAA remains steadfast

As the start of the school year approaches, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association remains steadfast in its committment for high school sports to resume.

The PIAA Board of Directors met via Zoom on Wednesday afternoon and reaffirmed their July 15 stance that high schools in the state will begin competition as normal this fall unless otherwise directed by the government.

“PIAA is committed to maximizing the athletic opportunities for students across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In addressing the COVID-19 crisis and how it has affected the 67 counties differently, PIAA understands the flexibility needed by districts to make localized, measured decisions rather than a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach in addressing interscholastic athletics,” the Board of Directors said in a news release. “To aid our school districts who have varied approaches to their return-to-school plans, PIAA has offered flexibility to schools, leagues and/or conferences to begin contests after the first contest date. As we continue to move forward, PIAA will remain flexible in considering that certain sports may be impacted differently and postseason play may need to be modified.”

For fall sports, PIAA issued three plans for schools to consider:

¯ A regular start would mean heat acclimatization for football would begin Monday, Aug. 10 with practices for all sports to start the following Monday, Aug. 17. The first game day for golf would be Thursday, Aug. 20 with girls tennis to follow on Monday, Aug. 24. The first eligible date for football games is Friday, Aug. 28 with all other sports (cross country, girls volleyball, field hockey, soccer and water polo) able to play their first games Friday, Sept. 4.

¯ PIAA also offered schools an alternate-start schedule which keeps heat acclimatization and practice dates the same. PIAA then directs schools to complete three weeks of practice before any team competes in a game, except golf (three days) and tennis (one week).

Under the alternate-start schedule, the first games for everything but football would be Monday, Sept. 14. The first football games would be Friday, Sept. 18.

¯ Under a hybrid start, fall sports competition would begin no later than Monday, Oct. 5 unless a later date is approved by the school’s respective district committee. All start dates would still follow the established preseason practice guidelines, and could change from sport to sport.

The PIAA Board of Directors also looked at general considerations for all sports, and for individual sports as proposed by their respective committees.

“The PIAA, drawing on the expertise of the National Federation of State High School Associations, Pennsylvania Department of Education, Pennsylvania Department of Health and PIAA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee offers this document as guidance on how PIAA member schools may consider approaching the “Return to Competition” for high school athletics in Pennsylvania,” the board said in a release. “While we all remain concerned about the dangers of COVID-19, PIAA believes it is essential to the physical and mental well-being of high school students across the Commonwealth that efforts be made to return to physical activity and athletic competition where that can occur in a reasonably safe environment.”

As far as gathering limitations, the PIAA noted that guidance released by the governor’s office said that sports-related activities at the pre-K through 12th grade level are limited to student-athletes, coaches, officials and staff only so spectators would not be allowed. If specators are allowed at some point during the season, outdoor gatherings would be limited to 250 people while indoor sports would be limited to 25 people.

Some individual sport highlights include:

¯ Cross Country: Consider using finish corrals to make it easier to distance at the finish line; consider widening the course to 6 feet at its narrowest point; discouraging team tents on site.

¯ Football: Team boxes may be extended on both sides of the field to the 10-yard lines; where feasible, extend the 2-yard sideline belt to 5 yards; it is recommended that teams promote the use of face shields by their players; only the referee and one representative from each team should take part in the coin toss in a socially distant matter; the “chain crew” should wear face coverings; water bottles should not be shared.

¯ Golf: Electronic scoring is permitted for regular-season competition and the exchange of scorecards by players is discouraged; verbal confirmation of scores may be accepted.

¯ Soccer: Ball boys and girls are encouraged to use their feet or wear gloves to return balls to designated areas or field players; maintain social distancing of 6 feet while substitutions enter and exit the field; goalkeepers are encouraged to keep a water bottle behind the net for wetting their gloves rather than spitting.

¯ Tennis: Between points, use your racquet or foot to advance balls back to your opponent or return them to another court; when playing doubles, coordinate with your partner to maintain physical distancing where possible; wash your hands thoroughly or use hand sanitizer before play, in between sets and after play; use four or six tennis balls that do not share the same number on the ball so you, your partner and the other team never serve anybody else’s ball.

¯ Volleyball: Suspend the protocol of teams switching sides/benches between sets. Home team will select their bench prior to the match and remain there for the duration.

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