Athletic directors, coaches express relief, optimism as fall sports get go-ahead
Friday, August 21, 2020 | 6:08 PM
Most high school athletes across the state received good news Friday when the PIAA voted 25-5 to begin fall sports Monday.
Now it’s up to each school district to decide if they will allow their students to participate, especially in contact sports such as football, soccer and field hockey.
“I think this is a big step forward for the kids, especially for the issues they’ve been dealing with since March,” Ligonier Valley football coach Roger Beitel said. “These kids don’t want to be left at the altar again.”
Football teams will begin heat acclimatization practice Monday, and the other sports begin full-scale practices.
Hempfield athletic director Brandon Rapp said things will start as scheduled.
“The athletic committee will meet to make sure our policies are in order,” Rapp said. “We feel good about our plans and our coaches. We will monitor things. We’ll do all we can to assure a safe environment for our students.”
Athletes, coaches and school officials waited all week for the decision from the PIAA.
“It’s been pretty crazy waiting for a decision,” Knoch girls volleyball coach Diane Geist said. “It was hard to do any planning. It’s good to finally have a definite answer. I am just happy for the athletes who will get their chance. They really want to play.”
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf recommended high school and youth sports be halted until Jan. 1. Wolf’s recommendation was not a mandate but allowed school districts to make the decision.
Uniontown decided two weeks ago not to play football or soccer this fall. It is allowing golf, cross country and volleyball. Summit Academy also decided not to play football this fall.
Mike Burrell, the current athletic director at Greensburg Salem who will take over Norwin’s AD post Aug. 31, said both districts are ready to roll Monday.
“We had our return-to-play plan set back in June,” Burrell said. “The teams have been following our plan, and they’re ready to get started.”
Said Deer Lakes football coach Tim Burk: “We’ll jump through whatever hoops we have to to make it work. We were reading about the pods, and we can make that work. Just being able to know that we can go on Monday is a huge relief.
“My heart is happy for the kids, because that’s what it’s about.”
The WPIAL already has shortened the seasons for the teams. Football will start Sept. 4 with a scrimmage, and the season begins Sept. 11.
“It is a sense of relief. You’ve seen the reaction from the students and how much they want to play and how much we want them to play,” Highlands athletic director Drew Karpen said.
Rapp said it will be interesting to see what other districts decide now that the decision is in their hands.
“It’s something that we’ll definitely talk about as an administration,” Karpen said. “I, obviously, will be recommending that we move forward, but it’s something that I won’t be making the decision on my own. We’ll see what the consensus is.”
Plum athletic director Josh Shoop added: “I am confident in our safety protocols we have in place. Obviously, when we start hosting events, there will be more to do. I believe we can conduct them safely. Our board meets on Tuesday, and we will ask them for permission to continue on with our fall sports.”
One of the big questions was about liability if somebody gets sick.
The PIAA, WPIAL and all the districts want to make sure they are covered if that happens.
“I’ve been on these calls throughout this process with different ADs and people at the state level,” Karpen said. “I think they’ve done their due diligence and researched it.
“By all accounts, if we follow all of our protocols and do what we are supposed to do, we can create a safe environment. That’s not to say that someone couldn’t get the virus, but we’re going to do everything we can to protect our kids and our communities.”
Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .