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The YAIAA joined a number of Pennsylvania high school athletic conferences in delaying the start of fall sports Thursday, but that might not matter now.
Gov. Tom Wolf has recommended that no scholastic sports be played in the state until Jan. 1 at the earliest.
Wolf initially made the recommendation at the end of his press conference Thursday, then reiterated it with a statement later in the day. His original announcement came a few hours after YAIAA representatives voted 22-1 on Thursday to move back the start dates for sports to September. Delone Catholic was the lone school to vote against the delay.
The PIAA met Thursday but did not make an official decision on whether sports will be played this fall. The organization plans to meet again Friday to discuss the situation.
Wolf recommends no sports until January
Gov. Tom Wolf gives an update on Pennsylvania’s efforts to mitigate the effects of the new coronavirus. (Photo: Commonwealth Media Services)
After the YAIAA made its decision Thursday, Gov. Tom Wolf held a press conference in regards to updates for COVID-19 testing. When asked about whether fans will be allowed at sporting events this fall, he said the state’s guidance is that no sports be played during the remaining calendar year.
He ended his press conference immediately after making the statement.
“The guidance is we ought to avoid any congregant settings, and that means, anything that brings people together is going to help that virus get us and we ought to do everything we can to defeat the virus at any time,” Wolf said. “So anytime we get together for any reason, that’s a problem because it makes it easier for that virus to spread.
“So the guidance from us, the recommendation is that we don’t do any sports until Jan. 1.”
While there was initial confusion as to whether he meant that sports couldn’t be played in front of spectators, Wolf’s office put out a statement Thursday afternoon saying the Department of Health and Department of Education recommended that scholastic and recreational sports not be played this fall.
The statement clarified it was not an order or a mandate to cancel any seasons, but that it was a “strong recommendation” from the Wolf administration.
“As with deciding whether students should return to in-person classes, remote learning or a blend of the two this fall, school administrators and locally elected school boards should make decisions on sports,” the statement read.
The recommendation does not apply to professional or college sports, but it does to “non-school recreational youth sports.” Many AAU and club sports have been holding competitions throughout the state this summer.
Following an emergency meeting, the PIAA released a statement saying it was “tremendously disappointed” in Wolf’s decision to make a recommendation. The organization plans to meet again Friday “to review this action.”
The PIAA plans to have an official statement by Friday afternoon.
Earlier this week, Wolf expressed concern about contact high school sports being played at schools that have moved to completely virtual learning this fall.
Pennsylvania State Football Coaches Association President Garry Cathell released a statement Thursday stating that if fall sports aren’t played this fall, the association will “begin a conversation to have spring football.”
YAIAA planned to move sports back
The York Suburban Trojans get pumped up before a YAIAA Division II football game against Gettysburg in Spring Garden Township on Friday, October 11, 2019. (Photo: Dan Rainville, The Evening Sun)
Earlier on Thursday, YAIAA executive director Chuck Abbott said the league had not received any guidance or information from the state when making its decision, but that “things change day by day.”
The league had voted Thursday morning to delay competitions until September.
For football, heat acclimation would begin Aug. 31 and practices would start Sept. 4. The first week for games would be Sept 18 and there would be no scrimmages.
Golf was set to begin Sept. 8, tennis Sept. 9 and the rest of the sports on Sept. 24.
Voluntary offseason workouts were still allowed to be held prior to the start of practices. Updated schedules will be released at a later time and the YAIAA would only play league-only contests this fall.
The decision came two days after the league’s principals and athletic directors held a virtual meeting to discuss fall sports.
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YAIAA executive director Chuck Abbott said that the league’s reasoning for delaying athletics was to allow students to return to their classrooms and to give schools more time to evaluate how sports can be played during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“A month is going to give everybody a break to re-evaluate things and see where everybody is going and get things in perspective,” Abbott said Thursday morning. “A lot has to do with rescheduling. Schools are going to step up to the plate and do what’s best for kids.”
Some York-Adams school districts will be returning to in-person learning, but a number will be adapting “hybrid” models that mix virtual and in-person classes. Others are offering parents the option of full in-person learning or full virtual learning.
The education plans for every school district in York and Adams counties can be found here.
“I think that’s a good starting point,” Abbott said of kids returning to school before beginning sports. “I hope folks have patience; we are going to do what’s best for kids.”
Delone Catholic athletic director Tim Bonitz said the school voted against the proposal because it’s in favor of starting sports on time since it will be beginning full in-person education as scheduled.
Bonitz said he totally understands why other schools want to return to school before starting sports.
“It’s not so much we were against a delayed start, but that we were in favor of starting on time,” Bonitz said. “That aligns itself with our schools plan.
“I think what ultimately makes us a great league is that we ultimately have the same goal of promoting our students and keeping them safe even if we have different viewpoints.”
The PIAA announced last Wednesday that fall sports could begin as scheduled, though with a number of added health and safety restrictions. While practices were scheduled to start Aug. 17 with games beginning shortly after, the organization gave schools the option to delay the season until September, and no later than Oct. 5.
In the week since, a number of conferences have decided to push back the start dates for practices and competitions as school districts across the state continue to develop plans to return to classrooms. Some school districts have decided to suspend fall sports entirely.
The Pittsburgh-based Western Pennsylvania Athletic Conference (District 7) announced last week that football wouldn’t begin play until Sept 10, with other sports not starting until Sept 14.
This Mid Penn and Lancaster-Lebanon League announced this week that they are also delaying competitions until September. Most YAIAA teams were scheduled to play non-conference games against teams from those leagues.
More: Mid Penn Conference delays start of fall sports practices 18 days to Sept. 4
More: L-L League votes to delay start of fall sports season
Abbott pushed back against the notion that by delaying sports, leagues are simply avoiding making a decision on whether to play this fall or cancel the season.
“I don’t think it is,” Abbott said when asked if the league was kicking the can down the road. “We had to make a decision (to push back) sooner rather than later. The importance is getting back to school and then figuring out the extracurricular activities.”
Matt Allibone is a sports reporter for GameTimePA. He can be reached at 717-881-8221, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @bad2theallibone.
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